Bride of Rosecliffe

The Bridemaker

The Heartbreaker

The Knight of Rosecliffe

The Matchmaker

Mistress of Rosecliffe

The Troublemaker

Old Boyfriends by Rexanne Becnel
(Next (Harlequin), $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-23036-2
Mary Jo, Bitsey and Cat are “Grits” – Girls Raised in the South. However, they all now live in Bakersfield, California and all of the lives are one big mess.

M.J.’s much older husband died while enjoying the tender mercies of a transvestite masseuse and her stepchildren are already plotting to throw her out “their” home. Bitsey is a former debutante cheerleader who has raised three grown daughters, but in the process has let herself and her marriage go. Cat is an interior designer who has spent her whole life running from problems instead of facing them head on. Because of this, she is twice divorced and alone.

Therefore they decide to do something drastic. Bitsey has been dithering about going home to New Orleans to her high school reunion, and with M.J. soon to be homeless, they decide a road trip is order. So they pack up M.J.’s silver Jaguar and hit the road. All of them set out on the trip with goals. M.J. wants to look up her first true love. Bitsey wants to lose weight and reconnect with the former bad boy turned ACLU attorney she dated prior to her husband. Cat figures it is time she deals with her dysfunctional family, and she wouldn’t mind running into her old boyfriend who just now happens to be sheriff of her hometown.

Becnel describes this book as a “girlfriends” story, and I’m hard pressed to think of a better description than that. While the story sounds a bit cliché on paper (the trophy wife, the frumpy housewife, the sarcastic loner), Becnel writes a cracking good story. Told in first person, she also alternates her narrators, giving all three heroines ample opportunity to tell their stories.

Bitsey starts out the most intriguing, as we all know women like her. She’s spent her entire adult life raising her daughters and taking care of her husband. However now she’s overweight and taken for granted. Her desire to reconnect with her old boyfriend dangerously veers towards infidelity, but one can understand how she’s gotten to that point. The passion is gone from her marriage, she still has issues with her parents and her youngest daughter is sporting a black eye thanks to her musician boyfriend. While she would normally comfort herself with binge eating, she has to find a better way – and over the course of the story she does.

Cat has spent her whole life hiding behind a wall of pain and avoiding issues. Her father was a drunk, her mother a shrewish drunk, and her brothers and sisters – yep, all drunks or drug addicts. She wanted to get out of Louisiana as fast as she could, so she ran. Problem is, she never stopped running. So as much as she hates it, she’s home to deal with mom, sister and two useless brothers. There is also Matt, the boy she left behind, all grown up, totally responsible, a good man trying his best to raise his teenage son on his own.

M.J.’s story was perhaps my favorite, mainly because Becnel gives her one heck of a romance. M.J. intends to spend time with her old boyfriend, but instead falls for the man who is perhaps all wrong for her. In fact, he’s the only man on the planet who doesn’t like her or her ample assets. She’s always been able to rely on her looks, so to be confronted by a man who seems unaffected by her body puzzles her. Their romance is quite sweet, and the love scenes are some of the more imaginative and touching I’ve ever encountered.

What I liked about this book is that at times I didn’t like these characters. They’d do something to annoy me – Cat being a witch, Bitsey flirting with infidelity, and M.J. drinking and exercising to excess. However, Becnel doesn’t make them one note characters. They aren’t just one type. So after Cat says something spiteful, she turns around and does something nice. Just when you think Bitsey is morphing back to petulant teenage girl, she grows up. And M.J.? M.J. has a brain to go with her great body and killer looks.

All of these women are better people by the end of the story, and better yet, Becnel gives them each their own happily ever after. The reader is left with the impression that they’ll have to work at it, but isn’t that just the way life is? Nothing is set in stone for long, but M.J., Cat, and Bitsey are now stronger women who can roll with the punches. Here’s hoping all the new Next novels from Harlequin featuring older heroines are as entertaining as this one.

--Wendy Crutcher

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