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1-800-Hero by JoAnn Ross
(Harl. Temp. #693, $3.75, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-25793-7
1-800-Hero is the first of five books, by five different authors, dealing with S. (amantha) J. Slade's bodyguard agency in San Francisco. In case any of you decide to try the agency's phone number, let me assure you that 1-800-555-HERO, is not a working number. I know from firsthand experience.

JoAnn Ross has written an outstanding book about a subject she knows well: the romance publishing industry and romance conventions. Anyone who has attended romance conventions or has knowledge of the publishing industry will recognize familiar events. The cover hunks strutting their stuff, the costume parties, the networking; it's all here and lots more. We've been given a witty, insightful and wickedly humorous look at some behind-the-scenes glimpses of the publishing industry.

Romance author Grace Fairchild has just received her fourth threatening note. She's in San Francisco for a romance convention and decides she needs a bodyguard. Sure, she can come up with a list of suspects who don't like her, but she's having a hard time believing that any of them would want to kill her. There's her ex-husband Robert the rat who was the do-nothing half of the writing team of Roberta Grace, their pseudonym. With Grace writing on her own and ready to legally claim the name of Roberta Grace, would Robert kill her to retain the pseudonym? And then there's Robert's new wife, Grace's ex-agent. And then there's . . ..

If the phone had rung ten minutes later, Lucas Kincaid would have been an ex- bodyguard on his way to Alaska aboard his sixty-foot ketch. S.J. Slade is able to get Lucas to agree to one last assignment. She explains Gracie's situation and offers Lucas a generous deal; meet the author and if he still wants to leave, S.J. will find a replacement somehow. (Smart women know how to use guilt effectively. S.J. is inspirational to watch.)

Lucas walks into the conference hotel and is immediately mistaken for a cover model. Yep, he's gorgeous. Spotting Grace in the bar, he has to get her attention away from her laptop. "As their eyes met, then momentarily held, Lucas imagined the roar of distant surf and felt himself drowning. And the crazy thing about it was that he didn't even care." On the spot, Lucas falls for Grace. Bingo, I was a goner. My heart melts for the hero who knows instantly that the heroine is his missing half. Usually his biggest obstacle is the heroine herself, but the super heroes always win.

Lately it seems that romantic suspense books give more emphasis to the suspense, but Hero in no way slights the romance aspect. Everything revolves around Lucas and Gracie. There's a mystery developing in the background, but it never overshadows our main characters, characters who frequently diffuse the tension with humor.

Lucas is the star of the show, a complex hero who looks at life like the cockeyed optimist, never letting his past interfere with his future. Being an ex-SEAL, he's seen tragedy and horror. Yet his humor and confidence are always evident. His wicked sense of humor not only keeps Gracie from fixating on her situation, but it had me chuckling out loud. He and Gracie are judging a cover model contest. Discovering that some of the contestants have been entered by their mothers, he "tried to picture his mother sending in a near naked photograph of him and decided it would be easier to believe she's been beamed aboard the mother ship by aliens."

Sometimes a hero is so perfect that he overshadows the heroine. Grace is an ideal match for Lucas. She's savvy enough not to let her womanizing ex-husband diminish her self- esteem. She's a little awed by Lucas, but she's not afraid to take the happiness he's offering. (She fantasizes about losing twenty pounds in a minute, but don't we all.) No, she doesn't take him up on his almost-immediate marriage proposal, but she does recognize how unique he is. She's as charmed as I was by his wickedly funny sense of humor.

Hero just pushed all the right buttons for me. Lucas sees Grace and knows that she is his other half. He wants Grace, and he lets nothing deter him. I can think of no better accolade for a hero. Two reasons stand out among many in my decision to award five hearts to Hero. One is our hero who, regardless of the odds and challenges, never gives up on his quest to enrapture the heroine. The second reason is the dialog, which is laugh-aloud funny. The bottom line is simple: I love this story.

Near the end of Hero, Lucas confesses that his grandmother will be bringing all of Gracie's books to the wedding. She wants them autographed. "She called them keepers, by the way." So is 1-800-Hero.

--Linda Mowery

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