So what do two romance novel-cookbook writers from Howard County know about spy stuff -- beating the truth out of drug dealers and taking Soviet handguns apart? For starters, about three books worth.

Columbia resident Ruth Glick knows from soup and romance, among other things: She is author or co-author of 31 books, including "Soup's On."

Ellicott City, Md., resident Eileen Buckholtz wrote the Micro Adventure series for children and a total of 17 books. Together, the women have been co-authors of Silhouette romance novels for about five years, under the pen name Amanda Lee.

But not long ago it dawned on them that in an age when espionage is regular front-page news, the average romance reader might be looking for a bit more adventure. Shifting gears and hardening their hearts, they set about absorbing the ways of spies, kidnapers and killers.

Their heroes and heroines would be flung together by danger and would not necessarily connect by chemistry at first sight, they decided.

The search took them to Madrid, where they learned about evasion and survival from a terrorism expert at the American Embassy. It took Glick to Ireland, where she soaked up atmosphere at pubs said to be frequented by IRA regulars.

Using libraries here, they learned all about Soviet handguns; they pumped experts at the Aberdeen Proving Ground for information about plastic explosives.

Because KGB agents figure frequently in the new books -- as the bad guys, of course -- the authors had to learn about Russian life styles, said Buckholtz, a Georgia native who also works as a part-time computer consultant for the Defense Department.

The upshot of all that, "Talons of the Falcon," the first of three "romance/adventure" books they have written together under the name Rebecca York, is being released this week by Dell Books. The two other "Peregrine Connection" novels will be in book stores later this year.

The hero of the second book, "Flight of The Raven," is a Russian defector. The heroine is a State Department terrorism specialist working in Madrid.

Glick and Buckholtz chose New Orleans as a setting for their third book, "In Search of the Dove," in which an Annapolis psychic and jewelry shop owner becomes a secret agent. Inspecting the city for inspiration, they decided that their kidnaped hero could hide nicely in the kind of above-ground sepulchre common in swampy Louisiana.

The recent real-life flurry of espionage arrests, charges and trials has only whetted readers' interest in spying, the writers maintain.

Lydia Paglio, the Dell Books editor working with Glick and Buckholtz, calls the two authors "strong writers" and says the work they are doing is "really a very new area.

"You have writer Ken Follett doing it . . . but the romance element in his books is very, very limited. And you have Helen MacInnes, and again romance is peripheral.

"So it's very new in general women's romance fiction to have a strong story line that involves adventure and intrigue with an equally strong romance."

In a typical "category" romance

"The roll of film in his pocket was a death sentence. And if he wasn't careful it was going to be his.

"It took all his discipline to feign interest in the flashing display windows lining the Plaza Mayor, but it was important to blend into the noisy evening crowd.

"He stopped under the shadows of the stone colonnades lining the square and doubled back often enough to assure himself that a KGB agent wasn't following.

"But the reprieve was only temporary for the double agent with the code name Raven. At any moment his cover could be ripped off with all the violence of a jealous husband who had discovered a naked lover in his wife's bed.

"The image brought a grim smile to his face. In this case he suspected that the injured party would shoot first and ask questions later . . . . " -- "Flight of the Raven" novel, Paglio said, "the focus of the entire book is the romance: man and woman meeting, falling in love, having a conflict and a falling out, resolving, and living happily ever after."

Unlike conventional romances, Buckholtz and Glick say, their books don't necessarily end with the marriage of the hero and the heroine. In some cases the couples do wed, but the writers are not confident the marriages will be happy ones.

Burkholtz and Glick set out on the road to intrigue six years ago when they met at a writing workshop attended by veterans of a Howard Community College writing class. About a dozen writers met every other week to read samples of their work and offer comments and suggestions.

When Buckholtz, who describes herself as "a romance reader before it was legitimate and you had to do it in the closet," asked Glick to write a romance novel with her, the two became partners.

They compose at a word-processing computer at Glick's house, usually about six days a week. In off hours, they telephone each other frequently to discuss ideas.

As things stand now, they've spent so much time finishing each other's sentences on the word processor that they do that when chatting about the weather.

Buckholtz, 37, said she lapped up romance books as a child. Glick, 44, read adventure stories as a girl.

Romantic spy novels "have to have a certain level of threat . . . but not continuous violence," Glick said, at least, "not gratuitous violence." And not extremely graphic.

"But there's always something more important than the romance" in their novels, Buckholtz adds: "A cause. Something they have to put the relationship second to." But although the couples in their books always place their secret assignments above affairs of the heart, Buckholtz said, "people who read romances for the love scenes will not be disappointed."