Susan Andersen's biographical sketch provides a strong clue about why her contemporary romances are so satisfying. It states that she likes characters who actually talk to each other. Imagine that! Here's an author who understands that, while conflict is necessary so that the happily-ever-after doesn't occur on page 5, characters who pigheadedly refuse to communicate are not ingredients of a good romance novel.
In the case of Be My Baby, the conflict derives from the characters' disparate backgrounds and goals. Juliet Rose Astor Lowell is a lonely blue-blood heiress who is in New Orleans for the grand opening of the latest Crown Hotel, a chain owned by her father. She has been raised by her grandmother, who emphasizes etiquette and proper behavior over love and affection. Yet although Juliet is prim, she's not prissy or snobbish.
Nothing in her sheltered life has prepared her for the vitality of New Orleans, or for Beauregard Dupree, the police detective who is assigned to be her bodyguard when Juliet's father receives a letter protesting the hotel opening. Beau is darkly handsome, loud and crude. He's also mad as hell at being taken off an important case to babysit Juliet. He tries to annoy her by dragging her around with him to a variety of seedy strip joints, allegedly in search of a lead to his case.
But his plan to force her to demand a replacement bodyguard goes seriously awry when Juliet finds herself fascinated instead of repelled by New Orleans's seamier side. Then things get complicated when it appears that the protest letter may be just the opening salvo in a plot to harm Juliet.
As Beau begins to take his bodyguard role seriously, he finds that when Juliet lets her hair down and puts on a certain shade of lipstick, the prim Yankee is just about irresistible. Too bad Beau has other plans. He has single-handedly raised his three younger sisters for the past ten years, ever since their parents died. Now that the youngest Dupree is officially an adult, Beau is ready to start making up for lost time in the dating and mating field. Fidelity and long-term commitment are not part of his game plan.
Be My Baby reads like a Susan Elizabeth Phillips novel with a little less edge and a little more heat. There's plenty of humor generated from Juliet and Beau's clash of cultures. Andersen increases the attractiveness of both hero and heroine by highlighting their other significant relationships, especially Beau's sweetly overprotective behavior with his three sisters and Juliet's awkward but sincere attempts to start a true friendship with her administrative assistant. The romance between Beau and Juliet works better than the suspense part of the novel. There are too many holes in the plot and Beau's police work is less than impressive. But who cares? If you want a police thriller, read Joseph Wambaugh.
The best part of the novel is that Juliet and Beau actually talk to each other. Their dialogue sparkles and their steamy love affair never hinges on the dreaded Big Misunderstanding. By the time Juliet realizes she has found both the independence and love she has always wanted, and Beau realizes his dream to sleep with every large-chested blonde in the city is an empty one, the reader concludes the novel with a
smile on her face. Keep communicating with us, Ms. Andersen – you've got the right idea!