Cop of the Year

Feel the Heat

Just One Night

The Man Who Loved Christmas

Code of Honor by Kathryn Shay
(Harl. Super #882, $4.25, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-70882-3
WOW! Now I understand why my colleagues gave Kathryn Shay’s first two books about firefighters in the mythical Rockford Fire Department keeper status. Shay is an immensely talented author who has succeeded in recreating the world of urban firefighters with impressive fidelity. She also has created memorable characters and given them a compelling story. This is an excellent contemporary romance.

Chelsea Whitmore has been reassigned to Lieutenant Jake Scarlatta’s crew at Quint/Midi Twelve fire station. Chelsea had been a firefighter for eight years but she had run into trouble at her previous posting. She had become romantically involved with a fellow firefighter, but the relationship had turned sour when Billy became controlling and violent. The other men at the station had blamed Chelsea and she had been forced out. Jake is not particularly happy to welcome his new crewmember. He worries that his crew may not welcome a woman into their very male environment.

Chelsea arrives feeling more than a little defensive. She was hurt when her colleagues turned on her and is unsure of her welcome. After a bit of a rocky start, it seems as if the guys are willing to accept her, thanks in large part to Jake’s strong support. Her competence at her job gains her even greater acceptance.

Chelsea has sworn off men and especially firefighters. Jake has had a bad experience when a personal relationship with his onetime best friend caused a conflict with his professional duties. Neither has any intention of getting involved. Yet each finds much to admire in the other and the attraction between them grows. But the barriers to their growing love are real. Jake is Chelsea’s superior. And when it appears that Chelsea is not performing her job effectively, Jake faces a painful dilemma.

Chelsea is a most attractive heroine. She is both physically and emotionally strong, able to carry a two hundred pound man down a ladder and to win a triathalon. She loves being a firefighter and emergency medical technician, but as one of five women in a 500 person force faces real challenges. Jake has largely retreated from relationships since his marriage ended, except for his devotion to his daughter and his erstwhile best friend’s troubled son. But his feelings for Chelsea break through the barriers he has established.

In addition to a fine romance, Shay provides an amazingly accurate picture of life as an urban firefighter. In a month when so many firefighters have died from Massachusetts to Iowa, this description of both the intense training that firefighters undergo, their constant preparation, and the actual dangers they face on a regular basis add depth to Shay’s story.

Shay reintroduces characters from her previous “America’s Bravest” books and I hope has set up her next story with the relationship between Chelsea’s psychologist sister and the fire department’s resident shrink. But one does not need to have read the first two books in the series to enjoy Code of Honor. I haven’t, but you can be sure that I will as soon as possible.

Code of Honor is a simply marvelous book. The characters are real people facing real dilemmas and triumphing over them. The setting is wonderfully drawn. And, I might say that the love scenes are as good as the rest of the book. I applaud Harlequin for releasing Shay’s first three books one right after the other. Clearly, the publisher recognizes what a special talent Shay is. But please, don’t make us wait long for number four.

--Jean Mason

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