A MOMENT IN TIME

Judith Gould, Author . Dutton $24.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-525-94607-6

"Don't take the ring!" you want to shout, when slithery Teddy de Mornay offers a humongous canary diamond to Valerie Rochelle. Valerie not only had the democratic good taste to drop the "de la" from her own name when she added "Doctor of Veterinary Medicine," she's also a woman of character—tender yet tough, loyal and fearless. Alas, Teddy's romantic persistence, backed by a libido that doesn't quit, is persuasive. Then Valerie's pager intrudes: a horse has been taken ill at the mysterious estate called Stonelair, and the plucky vet drives off alone through the dark, twisty landscape. (The cinematic locale of this sudsy romance-thriller, never specified, is a rich Eastern seaboard community with lush scenery, vast mansions and prosperous farms.) It isn't only the stallion Storm Warning that needs healing, however. Laird of the manor Wyndym Ashley Conrad, who was dragged across a field in a polo accident, is scarred body and soul. Before Valerie and Wyn can have their happy ending (this time she gets a green diamond, to match her eyes), they have to do battle with the cocaine-fueled greed of his separated wife, Arielle; the perfidy of major domo Santo Ducci; and the crazed jealousy of one of Valerie's associates, whose rage drives her to murder several beloved pets under Valerie's care. Plausible? Subtle? Inventive? None of the above. But bestselling Gould (Time to Say Good-Bye) knows what makes a yummy, lo-cal summer salad: snaky evil defeated by redemptive true love—with lots of hot un-dressing as the thunder crashes. (Aug.)