Private Pleasures

Ready-Made Bride

Bride Included by Janelle Denison
(Harl. Romance #3565, $3.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-03565-9
One of the best things about being a TRR reviewer is the variety of books we get to review. Even loving category romances as I do, their variety never ceases to amaze me. When authors as talented and versatile as Janelle Denison switch with ease between writing Harlequin Temptations and Harlequin Romances, the variety and quality are a given.

Bride Included uses a theme that we're familiar with, an arranged marriage. Janelle Denison hasn't added anything particularly new, but she's given us such lively characters and included such gently provocative scenes that she's made it seem fresh and enjoyable.

Eleven years ago, teenagers Josie McAllister and Seth O'Conner were experiencing first love. The use of protection didn't keep Josie from getting pregnant. Seth was ready to marry her, even though his family hated hers. The families, with adjoining spreads, were involved in a long-standing feud. Then Seth began hearing rumors that Josie was sleeping around. Suddenly he doubted that he was the father. Not wanting to be taken for a dupe, he believed the rumors and dropped Josie, severing all contact.

Cutting to the present, Josie and her ten-year-old daughter Kellie see an unwelcome visitor ride up to their Montana ranch. What is Seth O'Conner doing here? Josie shoots his hat off before he reaches the front porch, leaving Seth with no doubt as to how Josie feels about him. That doesn't deter him, though, but only angers him and makes him more determined to claim his winnings.

In a poker game a few days before, Josie's dad lost the ranch to Seth. The wily old coot added a stipulation, though, that Seth could only claim the ranch if he asked Josie to marry him. If Josie says no, Seth gets the ranch free and clear. If Josie agrees to marry him, then they'll share the ranch. These two hate each other, but common sense dictates that they come to some sort of agreement.

Seth yearns for a place of his own. When his father learned that Seth and Josie were involved, he saw it as a betrayal and cut Seth out of his will. For several years now Seth has been one of the hired help, watching his older brother run the ranch that should have been half his. To Seth, winning the McAllister ranch is a godsend.

Josie has no choice but to agree to Seth's proposal. If she walks away, she'll be giving him the ranch. Josie first tries to get Seth to agree to a marriage of convenience, with no sex. His "NO" is loud, resounding and a delight to read, but his planned seduction on his wedding night backfires. Realizing that he won't force Josie, he only hopes that his will and patience are stronger than hers. A wonderful thing happens while he's waiting. He and Josie slowly rebuild their friendship, one that was so strong years before.

Kellie is a delightful addition to the cast, as is an old ranch hand, Mac, who takes it upon himself to mentor Seth gently in the ways of the McAllister women. Mac sagely pushes Seth to question the old rumors. Kellie's surprise wedding dinner is a wonderful gift, even down to the inedible, but lovingly prepared wedding cake. A word of caution to the moms reading this: While Kellie is no stranger to the kitchen, try not to shudder when you think about a ten-year-old making a wedding cake. It's the memory of her kindness that counts.

While the setting of Bride Included is on a ranch, in no way are we bogged down with ranching details. It's the return of a man to land he could call his own, land from which he could derive pride and satisfaction, a sort of returning to his roots.

Ms. Denison, well known for her ‘Blaze' books, does a noteworthy job of scaling down the sexual tension for Harlequin Romances without losing the anticipation. This is sex viewed through a lace curtain, still very satisfying and fulfilling.

If you are one of the lucky readers who is familiar with Janelle Denison's writing, then you know that she writes with polish and assurance. Once again she's given us the same kind of steady, honorable people that I now associate with her. The sex is tamer, but it's no less enjoyable or rewarding. I'm beginning to think that she could make even cereal box nutrition labels appealing. She's one talented writer.

--Linda Mowery

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