License To Thrill
by Lori Wilde, contemporary (2003)
Warner, $5.99, ISBN 0-446-61366-5


For her Warner debut, category author Lori Wilde uses a very familiar premise in screwball romance and manages to create a super fun tale out of it. If the story doesn't suffer from the dreaded Moonlighting syndrome - everything goes downhill after the main characters have sex - this book will be prime entertainment.

Old-money rich guy Mason Gentry has what he believes he wants in life: a stuffy girlfriend and soon to be wife, Daphne, money, career, and a life that goes according to routine and schedule. When his grandfather withdraws a huge amount of money and disappears to Vegas, he decides to give chase. He suspects that his grandfather Nolan has run off with the hussy Maybelline and now blowing half a million dollars at the table, so he charges into Maybelline's PI office, only to meet Maybelline's granddaughter Charlee Champagne instead. Soon these two are hot on the trail of their grandparents in an adventure that involves celebrity impersonators, blackmail, tacky quiz shows, and delicious sexual tension.

Mason is a charming man indeed. I especially like how he doesn't want to do anything funny with Charlee until after he's broken up with Daphne first. His realization that he really prefers life with Charlee as opposed to his stuffy shirt lifestyle is very well done, reminiscent of how Jayne Ann Krentz used to thaw her millionaire control freak heroes at her prime. Smart, charming, and witty - how can I resist? Charlee is also a generally decent heroine despite some dodgy moments, and she's smart and witty. She and Mason are really fun together, and their chemistry, along with Ms Wilde's deft way of handling her story so that the story doesn't spiral out of control into total lunacy, makes License To Thrill a rollercoaster ride of a road trip romance.

Unfortunately, late in the story after Mason and Charlee has done the deed, the story jumps the shark. Daphne is dispatched in a humiliating manner, Charlee turns too stupid to live and has to have Mason come and save her, and trite "Why We Can't Be Together" yammerings (mostly from Charlee) starts to bog down the story.

Another weak point is Nolan and Maybelline's supposedly grand love. They were married once because she got knocked up by a married man that resembled Nolan (whom he had a crush on forever) and then they parted ways. Nolan and she had a child together, but apparently true love doesn't matter when he went and married another woman (on his family's insistence) and she moves on to eke out a living on a series of odd jobs all over the country. What, love doesn't allow a man to pay child support? And he says he loves her? If he loves me and doesn't pay me child support, he would only get some from me after sampling my delicious knuckle buster sandwich first. And early on, Maybelline thinks about how Nolan's grandson deserves a woman like her to make him realize the more important things in life. Seeing how her life has turned out, I can't help thinking she's really the one to talk.

Still, no matter. Charlee and Mason's grand adventure is one to read if you don't mind overlooking the no-brainer of an Elvis impersonator kidnapping people and driving his victims around the place (would you dress up in something people will remember clearly when you go around kidnapping people?). The chemistry is amazing, the repartees sizzle, and for the most part, Mason and Charlee are one helluva fun couple. License To Thrill really does deliver the thrills it promises.

Rating: 85


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