The Princess & the P. I.
by Donna Sterling
(Harl. Temp. #964, $3.75, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-25794-5
***
Dubbed the Perfume Princess by the press, filthy-rich twenty-five-year-old Claire Richmond decides to escape . . . from her hovering bodyguards, her overbearing uncle and the incessant paparazzi. Claire hates the press. They've just printed incriminating photos of her fiancÚ with her so-called friends. Her uncle thinks that she's a fool for breaking her engagement. What's a little infidelity between rich people? Claire feels that there's no one she can trust except her cousin Johnny.

With Johnny's help, her escape attempt is almost successful. Tabloid press owner Hattie Pitts uses high-tech equipment to eavesdrop on Claire and Johnny's escape-planning phone call. She sends her foster son, Tyce Walker, to Atlanta, Claire's destination. Hattie wants Tyce to follow Claire and get pictures.

Tyce, owner of one of the country's largest P.I. firms, has other plans for Claire. Claire's uncle has hired Tyce to follow Claire and keep tabs on her. The uncle doesn't want her guarded; he just wants to know where she is and who she's with. What a creep. In return, the uncle will use his considerable power to reopen a criminal case that will hopefully free Tyce's childhood friend from prison.

Tyce does befriend Claire, claiming to have been hired by cousin Johnny. Believing him, Claire is charmed by this taciturn hunk and wants to be friends. Tyce feels torn; he's lusted after Claire for seven years, is fascinated with her, yet needs the uncle's help too badly to offend him. That's a tough situation for a hero.

How likely is it for all of these events to occur, for all of these people's paths to cross? What are the odds that someone who hates the press should be involved with someone who has ties to the tabloid press? That Claire's uncle would be the one man who could help Tyce's friend and poof, they're working together? All these contrivances would be akin to a tree hugger dating a logger or a stripper dating a minister. Or me winning the lottery. Some things are too impossible to take seriously.

Aside from these major plot contrivances, I had serious problems with Tyce. For far too much of the story, he sees Claire as a means to an end, as the freedom for his friend. I kept wondering when he would see her as a person and not as a job or the object of his lust.

What saves the story is Claire, who's remarkably unaffected by her wealth. It's fun watching her experience things that we take for granted; going to the grocery store or shopping at the discount store. Tyce does make a few points when he eats, with nary a complaint, the first meal that she's ever cooked. He chokes down burned bacon and crunchy scrambled eggs. Too many eggshells will do that.

A story that's too contrived and a hero who takes too long to show his hero status are the main factors in my decision to rate this book as acceptable.

--Linda Mowery


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