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Kiss Me Deadly    by Susan Kearney order for
Kiss Me Deadly
by Susan Kearney
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2007 (2007)
*   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Two years have passed since attorney Amanda Newman and DEA agent Zach Taylor had a steamy one night stand that resulted in an unplanned pregnancy. Mandy realises that a man like Zach would never make a good father - he's too wrapped up in his undercover work trying to nail drug dealers. She keeps the secret of her daughter's parentage to herself and decides to raise Gabrielle on her own. One day she will tell Zach the truth - but not until she feels the time is right. That day comes sooner than Mandy ever expected after her life and the lives of her colleagues are threatened.

By the time they realize that the threat is horribly real, Mandy has been attacked twice and one of her office colleagues is found murdered. They're unsure whether the threat is linked to a past case - a good share of the firm's cases centre around abused women, child custody and messy divorce cases - or connected to the Power Ball jackpot the women had recently won. The evidence points to the latter since Mandy was carrying their winning ticket and her attacker went to great lengths to steal it. Bodyguards are assigned each woman and as fate would have it, Zach (on administrative leave from the DEA) steps in to keep an eye on Mandy. Seeing him again proves difficult as does relying on him to keep her safe - he'd abandoned her once already. But as their time together grows, so does the realization that their attraction is as incendiary as ever. Can they overcome their past and set aside their mistrust before a killer shatters any hope of a future with their daughter?

Kearney has written a series of interstellar adventures under the TOR imprint - Kiss Me Deadly is her first romantic suspense for the line. While there's plenty of steam between the leads, especially once they're forced into constant and very close proximity while dodging murder attempts, there's never really a sense of chemistry between Mandy and Zack. Both spend too much time trying to avoid the other or skirt their issues. Mandy works hard to keep the news that Zach is Gabby's father a secret. She also internalizes too often over her concerns over Zach's undercover work, making him a poor relationship candidate.

Zach meanwhile is hung up on serious personal baggage of his own, involving his job and his family. While their individual issues are believable enough, resolution seems too swift and too pat. Plot wise, the action is nicely paced and Kearney adds a liberal sprinkling of red herrings, but even so, readers will figure out the identity of the bad guy well before the end of the story. Kiss Me Deadly will appeal to readers who enjoy action served with plenty of steam; those who appreciate character development and more of a puzzler will find it a rather tepid read.

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