Smooth Moves

Duets # 83 by Carrie Alexander
(Harlequin, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-44149-5
Here’s a little twist to the Duets series. Once Upon a Tiara and Henry Ever After are two tales involving the same small town and event occurring at the same time. Yet they are written as two separate stories, i.e., the first story finishes, and the second story retells the same time period. Then they have a common ending.

Once Upon a Tiara is the story of Princess Lili Bruner of a little country called Grunberg, and museum curator and major geek, Simon Tremayne. Lili is the youngest of three daughters and this is her first real “royal” duty trip. She is thrilled to be going to the United States and wants to eat peanut butter and hot dogs and to lose her virginity, in that order.

Simon has been lucky to get a job in any museum after a theft occurred in his last job, and he is determined that nothing will go wrong in this job. Blue Cloud, PA will be hosting the Princess and her entourage, along with the Bridal Tiara of Grunberg (which includes the Vargas Diamond) and other jewels in an exhibit. The town is celebrating the 50th Anniversary of local girl Adelaide Applewhite’s marriage to the Prince of Grundy, Lili’s grandparents. But, of course, things go wrong.

Lili is stung by a bee, there is a pickpocket loose in the crowd, Gypsies (who claim some history to the jewels) are camping just of out town and Lili is determined to have some adventures. She shares several “zings” with Simon, just by touching and especially after kissing. Could Simon be Lili’s Prince Charming?

This story is lighthearted, and full of humorous little anecdotes that keep the story from taking itself too seriously. There are several inconsistencies in the characters making the pace of the story uneven. Lili goes from wide-eyed innocent to seductress to proper princess with no apparent rhyme or reason. This made it difficult to really bond with her character. Simon was easier to like, although he had a few too many heartfelt inadequacies to fully believe he would be willing to have a relationship with Lili and ever believe that she could love him. He is almost an anti-hero.

Meanwhile Police Chief Henry Russell is worried about the security of the tiara. He is suspicious of the Gypsys, particularly one Jana Vargas. Henry Ever After is their story.

Jana is part Romany, as her Gypsy father married a rich American girl. When her parents died, Jana went to live with her grandparents in Boston. She rebelled against the puritan upbringing and has returned to the Gypsy’s nomad-type life. Henry grew up the oldest of many children, helping to raise them. He thrives on giving order to chaos. Can these two opposites find love?

I found myself distracted trying to see how Henry and Jana’s story fit into the story about Lili and Simon. I enjoyed Henry’s character in the first part, and was not disappointed in the second. He is a typical policeman hero, and the stronger of the two men. Jana is a little less defined. She struggles with her Gypsy heritage versus her upbringing with the Bostonians. This leads her to use her senses and yet not to fully trust her feelings. After reading both of these stories, Jana’s character is still a little fuzzy. Yet she is the more likable and stronger of the two women.

I did enjoy how she and Henry interacted. Their love story is the better of the two stories. Their sexual tension builds more naturally and their love develops much more realistically. The final scene where the mystery is resolved is contrived. It fits in with the tone of the first story, rather than the second.

Overall, this Duet #83 is meant to be a fairytale romance with two stories that intertwine. It makes for an interesting divergence from most traditional Duets, while the stories themselves are fairly predictable.

--Shirley Lyons

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