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High Stakes    by Justine Dare order for
High Stakes
by Justine Dare
Order:  USA  Can
Onyx, 2001 (2001)
* *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Of all the casinos in Outpost, Nevada, the Golden Phoenix is the crown jewel of the Montana dynasty. When a young woman wins a slot machine jackpot and then bolts without cashing in a single cent, Aaron Montana is not only baffled, but suspicious. As he reviews the security tapes again and again, it's clear that his mystery woman is afraid of something - or someone. It's up to him and his well-trained staff to find Shelby, to discover why she's running, and to see if the incident is linked to the high profile murder of one of Outpost's most disliked citizens.

Using her wits, blending in and lying low when there's trouble are a few of the many lessons Shelby Wyatt learned and perfected as a teenage runaway. The last thing she needs as she's trying to stay one step ahead of a killer, is to win a jackpot at the Golden Phoenix. What surprises her even more is that Aaron Montana wants to protect her and help catch the man who's after her. But he has to win her trust first and there are only two people Shelby has ever trusted: Tiger Blaine, the young man who showed her how to survive on the streets, and Margaret Peterson, the woman who finally convinced Shelby to settle down and get an education. Margaret is her mentor, for whom Shelby will do anything, even hide the identity of a brutal killer.

But she has no idea how tenacious Aaron Montana can be when he sets his mind to something. Nor can either of them deny the feelings each evokes in the other as Aaron slowly gains Shelby's trust and she begins to see, with Aaron's every word and action, that there are still a few nice guys left in the world. Unfortunately the killer is just as relentless and will stop at nothing to silence her and anyone else who gets in his way.

Reliable story teller, Justine Dare, gives us another competent romantic suspense. The characters are well rounded and likeable, including secondaries like Aaron's female security chief, Robin, and his best friend detective Mike Delano. Ms. Dare's plotting keeps readers guessing as to not only the identity of the killer, but also who hired him. The action almost becomes redundant as Aaron and the police search for Shelby, who makes a habit of bolting. But over all High Stakes delivers the jackpot.

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