Duets 99 by Pamela Browning
(Harlequin, $5.99, PG-13) 0-373-44165-7
Pamela Browning's first comedy in this duet suffers from overdone eccentrics and not enough answers to the question "Why?" The second has some of the same characters, but is a better read.

The first story, Life is a Beach, is about a cowboy from Okeechobee City and a matchmaker who runs a Rent-a -Yenta matchmaking service. Slade Braddock is thirty-five and wants to find a wife. He visits Miami Beach in his search and runs into Karma O'Connor and agrees to try her service. Karma has only recently started running the service after the death of Aunt Sophie. She is immediately attracted to Slade, but thinks it is unprofessional to date a client. She also needs to find matches for some of her female clients, since she hasn't had much luck in the two months on the job.

Karma does not match Slade's description of his perfect wife. While he quickly realizes that Karma is the woman he wants, it takes her a long time to believe him. She insists that he go out with one of her female clients. He only goes because she insists and then she is jealous of the woman the whole time.

Eccentricities can often add great interest to characters, but it has to feel natural, not forced. For example, Karma describes her growing up family life as happy. Her parents first lived in a back-to-nature hippie-style commune with all four daughters. At some point, they moved to a town and lived more conventional lives. After the children were grown, her parents divorced because her mother started working at a bakery making anatomically correct body parts cakes and her father disapproved so now he works on a cruise ship teaching ballroom dancing and picking up rich widows. Huh?

I also did not get enough answers to the "why" question. Slade Braddock is handsome, successful cattle rancher. Why couldn't he find a woman closer to home? Karma has degrees in psychology, but was fired from her last job. Why? Without even a one or two sentence answer to these questions, I never felt that I knew enough about the motivation of either character to connect with them.

The second story, A Real-Thing Fling, is about Karma's sister, Azure or A.J. O'Connor and Slade's college roommate, Leonardo Santori. A.J. is all business in her wool-mix suits and still smarting after finding her fiancÚ and her good friend in a very compromising position. She is in Miami for Karma and Slade's beach wedding when she notices a beach bum - looking guy starting at her. He tries to get to know her, but she brushes him off. All she knows is his name is Lee. She is ready to fly back to Boston when her boss asks her to take time from her vacation and stay in Miami to meet with reclusive billionaire and possible client, Santori.

Lee sold a successful dot.com company and became a billionaire before the tech market crashed. He tries to stay out of the public eye because of the groupies and stalkers who try and attach themselves to the rich. He decides to use the Rent-a-Yenta matchmaking service using the name Lee Sanders to see if he can meet someone who likes him for himself, not his money. When he sees A.J., he is immediately attracted to her because he can see the heart beneath the icy business exterior.

A.J. is not interested in any man after what her cursed fiancÚ did and someone who seems to be an out-of-work beach bum would always be at the bottom of her list. He does persist and they do get much closer, but the fact that she does not know his real name is the major conflict in the story.

Lee's reason for the deception does make sense and he is quite likeable. He gently tumbles A.J.'s barriers, but he does wait far too long to reveal his identity. His ability to make A.J. relax and slow down gives her a chance to see beyond her beach bum impression of him.

As individual stories, I would have given the first story one heart and the second story three hearts. Even though the some of the same eccentrics appear in both stories, the second story focuses more on the couple. That was a good idea.

--B. Kathy Leitle

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