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Playing With Fire    by Gena Showalter order for
Playing With Fire
by Gena Showalter
Order:  USA  Can
Harlequin, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Stories about women who suddenly find themselves endowed with super powers seem to be gaining popularity. The versatile Gena Showalter takes that plot and has some real fun with it in Playing With Fire. Belle Jamieson does not have a stellar record at holding jobs; she can't help having a hair trigger temper and it's no big secret that her people skills need a serious makeover. But she's got rent to pay and is responsible for her dad, whose recent heart attack has left him unable to work and spending his days in an assisted living facility. Any normal girl would think she already had enough on her plate, but Belle's world turns wicked crazy when a rogue scientist decides to lace her grande mocha latte with a secret formula. Twenty-four hours later Belle wakes to find a dream guy bending over her and delivering the following news bulletin: his name is Rome Masters, he's a shadowy government agent and his mission is to neutralize her because she drank the formula.

Belle figures things can't get any worse, but they do when her uncontrolled emotions trigger her brand new ability to control the four elements - earth, wind, fire and air. She almost incinerates Rome and his ex-wife's apartment. But that's a minor disaster compared to the bodily harm she wreaks on assorted thugs who: a) want to finish the job Rome was supposed to carry out; or b) want to capture her for further study so they can duplicate her powers in others. Things get even more complicated when Belle discovers that there are far stranger things in heaven and earth than a former Starbucks employee with wildly out-of-control super powers. Once Rome realizes that Belle may be the one to help him solve a personal crisis, he introduces her to a whole other shadow world where all things paranormal are quite the norm and where he himself is much more than he appears.

Part chick lit, part comic book adventure, part over-the-top romp, Playing With Fire is a wild free-for-all that hits all the right notes. Belle's acerbic wit and over-worked, underpaid, and under-appreciated attitude about life in general is well done. But under all that sass is a young woman who's loyal to her friends and dedicated to her beloved dad. And one who has no intention of letting herself fall for a Mr. Bossy Know-it-All like sexy super agent Rome Masters. Yeah, right! A nice cast of secondary characters round out the fun and while Showalter ties up most of the loose ends by the end of this tale, it's clear that Belle and Rome will find themselves embarking on more weird and wacky missions very soon.

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