If I Can't Have You

Looking For a Hero

Till The End of Time

Wife for a Day by Patti Berg
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-80735-1
Patti Berg’s recent books involve time travel/fantasy and the paranormal. Wife for a Day is her foray into contemporary romantic fiction. While its Pretty Woman shadows are a weakness rather than a strength, with a little more honing of humor this author will hold her own in a crowded field

Wyoming rancher-restaurateur Jack Remington is out of his bailiwick, preparing to hobnob with his sister Lauren’s Palm Beach friends as she celebrates her engagement to husband number 3. Jack is having the equivalent of a bad-hair day. He hates flying and is greeted by every traveler’s nightmare. The airline has lost his luggage.

Though he hates formal affairs, Jack wants to keep his sister happy, so he arranges to have a replacement tuxedo delivered and tailored in his hotel suite. Something not so easily replaced is his fiancée, Arabella. As he is awaiting the tailor, she calls to tell him she is not going to meet him in Palm Beach or anywhere else.

Just as Jack is absorbing Arabella’s news, tailor Samantha Jones arrives. Jack is initially rude to her, but Sam is so desperate for a tip that she swallows her pride and goes to work. Before Sam finishes tailoring the tux, Jack has hatched a scheme to keep Lauren happy. He hires Sam to play Arabella for the night.

Sam is honest about her limitations as an actress and reluctant to mix with the Jacks and Laurens of the world. As the bastard daughter of a drug-addicted prostitute she is offended by Jack’s proposed “hiring” of her services. But she is indebted to a Hollywood loan shark after borrowing money to give her mother a decent funeral. Now living out of her VW bug, cleaning bathrooms at a local campground in exchange for shower privileges, it is an offer Sam realistically cannot refuse.

But Lauren becomes fond of Jack’s choice of a wife and Sam spends time in both Palm Beach and Wyoming playing Arabella.

Jack is a well-crafted hero with realistic problems. The author does a good job reconstructing the story of this teen father who lost both his young love and their baby son long before he had the maturity to care for the boy. His sixteen-year-old son’s arriving on his doorstep is a real chance for him to have a relationship with the boy and Jack makes a wonderful, caring attempt to become a father after being denied the chance for all those years. Furthermore, his genuine concern and attempts to protect his younger sister are dealt with sensitively, even his learning how to step back and allow Lauren to accept more responsibility for her own life.

A strong, interesting character at the outset, Sam ultimately does not live up to her potential. Even though the loan shark is only a phone call away and demanding payment, Sam’s willingness to participate, allowing Jack to continue the charade, makes little sense after a while. She believes Jack’s charade is threatening his relationship with Lauren and his son and resents his referring to her as Arabella but does nothing to change the ebb and flow of events.

While Sam does help Jack as he struggles with both relationships, there is an imbalance between Jack, a fascinating multi-dimensional hero, and Sam, a less well-crafted character whose behavior and motivations are sometimes murky.

This ultimately throws what might have been a nearly perfect recipe for romance slightly off-kilter.

--Sue Klock

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