Safe by His Side
by Debra Webb
(Harl. Intrigue # 583, $4.25, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-22583-0
***
New author Debra Webb offers an interesting twist on a standard setup in Safe By His Side. Private investigator Kate Robertson is offered a top-secret assignment: find special agent Jack Raine and bring him in. Seems that Raine, a contract agent, might have turned traitor and absconded with a large amount of money that belonged to the mob. Now Kate’s boss, as a favor to an old friend, has offered to find him and ascertain the truth. Kate eagerly accepts the assignment, wanting to prove herself.

But Kate has a secret, one she carries around in her purse. It’s a vial of pills. Heart medication, for an ailment nobody knows about - not even her employer. If she can succeed at this big task, then she’ll have proven her value to the agency, and perhaps her heart condition won’t matter so much.

Kate tracks Jack Raine to the mountains of Tennessee, but on her way to his remote cabin outside Gatlinburg, she swerves to avoid a deer and crashes her car, smacking her head.

Raine is astonished to open his front door and find a drenched, shivering woman on his porch. She has no idea who she is, she claims. To stave off hypothermia, Jack drags her into a hot shower, and then gives her some clothes. They’re just about to leave and find Kate’s car when two unsavory types arrive and kidnap both Jack and Kate at gunpoint.

What follows is a couple-on-the-run story through the Smoky Mountains, as Jack tries to keep Kate safe while avoiding the two hit men who want the missing money.

There is little macho arrogance or emotional tears here, just two people who are unwillingly stuck with each other and have to make the best of it. Jack makes a nice unwilling hero who is alternately exasperated and attracted to this woman who’s dropped into his life. Kate, while sympathetic, came across as a bit immature in some respects. First there’s the issue of the heart medication. She seems to believe that after she’s finished a big case, she will be able to blurt out the truth and all will be forgiven, which struck me as rather naive. Then there’s the matter of her returning memory, which she hides from Jack, while insisting he can’t tell her what to do (though she’s no expert at hiding out from mob hit men). They don’t really become a team until rather late in the book.

The kitchen-sink plotting almost overwhelmed the building relationship between Jack and Kate. Special agents, amnesia, private investigators, kidnappers, the mob… there’s a lot going on, perhaps too much. But Intrigues are plot-driven, more so than any other Harlequin line, so readers looking for this kind of story will find it's designed to keep them interested.

Safe By His Side is a respectable debut for Debra Webb. Readers who like fast-paced light suspense will find much to enjoy.

--Cathy Sova


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