Whisper by Nancy Warren
(Harl. Blaze #47, $4.50, R) ISBN 0-373-79051-1
Whisper combines a well-written romance with lots of imaginative sex - and generates enough steam to power a paddlewheel riverboat. After some early disappointments, is the “Blaze” line finally living up to its billing?

Genna Monroe is a workaholic lawyer dedicated to becoming the youngest person ever to make partner at her prestigious Chicago firm. She definitely doesn’t have time to waste on a relationship, so when she accidentally overhears a steamy encounter in a dark garden at a company party, she’s shocked by how much it turns her on.

She confesses her feelings and even something about her fantasies to her buddy, and co-worker, Nick Cavallo. Nick is relieved that Genna, someone he’s been interested in for a long time, didn’t recognize him as the male half of the couple in the garden. Then he sets out to make her fantasy of making love to stranger come true, starting at a costume party they’re both attending. She doesn’t know that the masked man who approaches her is Nick, but she sure recognizes the sexy whisper of the man she heard in the garden.

This book does a whole bunch of things right. For example, I’ve read lots of stories that couldn’t make the “disguise” plot work; too often, the “fool-ee” comes off looking totally dense and clueless. Here, the superhero-in-a-mild-mannered-disguise premise works and makes sense, as do Genna’s reasons for not wanting to break the spell. Okay, the making love in total darkness thing wears a tiny bit thin, but at least it didn’t stretch my credulity until I could see through it.

Uptight Genna feels totally liberated, in glorious lust with someone who has no expectations of her. She bobs and weaves a bit, mostly out of habit, but never loses her maturity or her sense of self. Her high level of comfort with sex is refreshing and it’s fun to watch as she rediscovers her buried passion, sense of adventure and sense of humor.

Often the sex-with-a-stranger plot feels dangerous and stupid - not conducive to romance, in my opinion. In Whisper, Ms. Warren avoids that trap, and it’s at least partly because she gives us a Nick we can trust. Not only are his motives regarding Genna never in question, but he makes it clear at each of their encounters that he’ll reveal himself any time she needs it. Genna’s very adult confidence level leads the action and guides our own responses. I thought it was a very skillful bit of writing.

One of the things that makes the book so hot, though, is that Nick does encourage Genna to stretch her boundaries, which hikes up the tension on a number of levels. The sex is frequent, varied and explicit, but always an integral part of the story. In addition, because the story never forgets it’s a romance, the sex is actually sexy rather than what one of my fellow reviewers has referred to as “gynecology.”

Naturally, because a deception is involved, the path of love hits a few speed bumps, and things are nicely complicated when sparks start to fly between Genna and the undisguised Nick (who finds that his alter ego is suddenly his, um, stiffest competition).

After setting such a blistering pace in the beginning, the book - or maybe it was me - flagged a little toward the end. Genna’s reaction to hearing the truth was less than admirable and not, to my mind anyway, perfectly comprehensible, which didn’t help.

But if you want to know what I think the “Blaze” line needs more of, Whisper will tell you everything you need to know.

--Judi McKee

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