by Michele Albert, contemporary (2005)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-8502-5
Readers looking for characters that feel right, act smart, and have multilayered characterization that works, reading Michele Albert's One Way Out is a way to go. Do watch out for the suspense elements though. It makes me laugh, how silly it is, but some readers may experience a more disagreeable reaction to it.
Cassie Ashton and Alex Martinelli are enemies. No, I don't mean that they are the silly "ooh, we are trying to pretend that our sexual tension is merely hot puffs of antagonism, hee-hee" sorts, they really don't like each other at all. Both are rivals in paleontology: he is an archaeologist working for Truth and Academia Redtape, she is in for the Money. To Alex, Cassie is a free-lancer mercenary sort who digs and sells fossils to the highest bidder. To Cassie, Alex is the pompous, insufferably bigoted jackass who had nearly destroyed her business in the past. When Cassie's gang discover a nearly-intact fossil of an infant Tyrannosaurus rex, she knows that she has hit the biggest paycheck of her career. However, since she doesn't have a PhD, she needs someone with credentials to verify her find for her. Other archaeologists treat her with even greater contempt than Alex, so she has no choice but to turn to Alex for help. It's not as if she has to go begging on her knees to him, though: she knows how much he wants to have a chance at studying the fossil.
Working together forces them to reexamine their initial assumptions about each other, but when someone tries to steal the fossil and harm Cassie and her family and employees in the process, those two will have to work together to solve this nuisance of a mystery.
I cannot rave enough about the characters. Michele Albert never comes out with wimpy useless heroines and she delivers a great heroine in Cassie. Some readers would find her a bitchy, ball-busting shrew, if some of the reviews of this book that I've read is anything to go by, but I always appreciate a smart and shrewd businesswoman who has the guts to do "unfeminine" things like, eeuw, giving orders and making rational and shrewd business decisions to make Hell Creek Fossil Company a success. Cassie has her vulnerabilities, of course, but her issues never overpower her common sense or turn her into a professional victim. Alex may be at the surface a rather hypocritical playboy but like Cassie, he has his facade slowly peeled off by Ms Albert to reveal a complicated, not-always-beautiful character. One thing Ms Albert gets perfectly right is how she has these two people slowly change their viewpoints about each other, from genuine dislike to genuine love and affection.
One thing I really like is how despite Cassie realizing that she is attracted to Alex, she never lets that attraction overpowers her common sense or turn her into witless putty in the hands of the hero. If you, like me, have read enough romance novels where the heroine, attracted to the hero, allows the hero to treat her like crap or fool her without any effort on his part, you'll adore how Cassie makes Alex work in order to win her heart. Too many heroines jump into the hero's bed the moment he snaps his fingers at them. Cassie? She's a sensible one who understands that you can feel lust without having to feel guilty about it or rushing to act on it.
Also, I really enjoy how the relationship starts off on a genuinely antagonistic note, with Alex and Cassie really have harsh and cruel words for each other, only to have them realizing just how much they have done each other wrong when they realize just how much they have in common. This is the kind of romance stories that I like - stories where the characters have to overcome a genuine hurdle in realistic ways.
However, this book could have easily gotten a 96 from me if the author doesn't kick up the suspense later in the book. Things get silly from that moment onwards. The villainous mastermind is supposedly wanted by many authorities all over the world, so I am led to believe that this guy will be a tricky one to beat. Surely he won't hire a horribly inept henchman who then hires even more inept thugs to give our hero and heroine trouble, right? Wrong! And don't get me started about the hero and the heroine getting to fulfill the sex scene quota twice when they are on the run. There are people on the run and there are people on the run, but these two are like Secret Seven members hunting down the naughty brat who stole Mrs Pelican's pecan pie.
Still, the strong characters and the satisfying romantic relationship can't be denied. It is unfortunate that Ms Albert feels that she has to take her One Way Out of this story with a ridiculously cartoonish people on the run plot but everything else about this book epitomizes too well why I enjoy this author's books.
This book at Amazon.com
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