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Tempting Fate by Meryl Sawyer
(Zebra, $6.50, R) ISBN 0-8217-5858-6
Since I have read and enjoyed all of Ms. Sawyer's previous works, I feel reasonably qualified in saying that Tempting Fate is not her best effort. Although there are some fine aspects to this tale, the story is hampered by its slow start. And it lacks the cohesiveness and the continuous fast-paced excitement that have made her previous books such terrific examples of my favorite genre: romantic suspense.

Life during the last two years has not been particularly kind to Kelly Taylor. First, she loses her husband, Daniel, in an airplane accident; then she loses her job as a New York City journalist because she did not check her sources before printing a story. Soon after that, her beloved grandfather, who raised her after her parents died, suffers a heart attack and Kelly returns to Sedona, Arizona, to take over the running of his newspaper.

But not much happens in this small town; the biggest story Sedona's ever experienced occurred more than twenty-five years ago when Senator Stanfield's adopted son disappeared under very suspicious circumstances. So when Kelly learns that the missing son has been identified through an FBI database and currently goes by the name Logan McCord, she is determined to find him. Kelly needs this story to reestablish her credibility as a big-time reporter.

Logan McCord could care less about being returned to the very dysfunctional Stanfield family he has already survived a nightmare of a childhood and has no use for family or relationships. What Logan does care about is that his cover as an agent has been blown. Logan's undercover name is "Nine Lives" and even though he has already gone through just about all of them, he still wants to tempt fate and get back to the dangerous work he loves.

But Logan's handsome face sells too many magazine issues; the public is riveted partly because of the mystery of Logan's disappearance as a child and partly because he is the spitting image of his adoptive father, Senator Stanfield. Logan's superiors refuse to allow him to go back to South America because they know he would be a marked man. Logan is ordered by his superiors to take six months off and enjoy himself.

Meanwhile, Kelly finds out that her perfect marriage was anything but; Daniel was planning to leave her before he died. He was having an affair with his Venezuelan secretary, who died with him during the airplane crash. She also discovers that they had a son, Rafi. Having lost her own parents at a young age, Kelly can't bear the thought of Rafi being raised in a Venezuelan orphanage. Kelly wants to go to Venezuela to get the child but first she needs two things: someone who knows South America and a husband the orphanage will not allow a single woman to adopt.

Many times I have read a romance and thought it could be greatly improved if a large portion of the ending had been left out. However, this is first time I can recall thinking that a story could be greatly improved if a large portion of the beginning had been left out, or at least condensed. This tale of romantic suspense takes far too long to get going. Whoever wrote the blurb on the back cover of this book didn't even attempt to explain the first hundred pages of this tale. He, or she, skipped right to the good stuff, which is what the author should have done.

Fortunately, once you get past the slow beginning the pace picks up considerably. Logan is a very interesting hero, who develops quite nicely as the story progresses. The chemistry between Logan and Kelly is terrific. Kissing, an act which seems very underrated in most books, takes on a new level of intimacy in Tempting Fate.

Actually, the "R" rating I assigned this book is warranted because of the nonstop sex between the villains. I'm not sure, but I think I'm sensing a trend where authors use kinky sex between the villains as filler. I have to admit I'm getting a little tired of reading romances where the villains are engaging in better and more frequent sex than the hero and heroine. A friend and fellow reviewer said it best when she described this as an example of virtue being its own reward.

The author tries to pull all the loose threads of this story together in the ending. To a certain extent she succeeds and to certain extent she doesn't. Although the ending is suspenseful, it's not particularly surprising. I think readers will find the villains in this piece easy to identify and they may wonder, like me, why it was worth concealing their identities? The bottom line here is that when Logan and Kelly are together Tempting Fate is a good read; when they are not, it needs some work.

--Judith Flavell

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