Kidnapped?/I Got You, Babe by Jacqueline Diamond & Bonnie Tucker
(Harlequin Duets 2, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-44068-5
***
Harlequin has begun its Duet line, combining two brand-new, full-length novels. After buying one too many books which were reprints, sometimes with new names, I appreciate knowing up front that I'm getting new stories. Averaging three dollars a story, this is indeed a good buy.

The first story, Jacqueline Diamond's Kidnapped? is, for want of a better word, bizarre. Las Vegas businessman Hal "The Iceman" Smothers pals around with a bunch of retired gangsters. He's 'removed' a few people for them, thus his nickname. His latest love and soon-to-be fourth wife asks him for a favor. She wants reporter Melanie Mulcahy removed.

Melanie is on the trail of a big story. She suspects socialite Margarita Samovar . . . I kept thinking Rita Teapot . . . of being the brains behind some jewel heists. Rita is Hal's ladylove, so Melanie's assumption may be correct.

After a golf ball lands on Melanie's head, one hit from some twenty-eight stories above, Hal takes the unconscious reporter to an island off the Pacific coast. It's an uncharted island that the gangsters own. In keeping with their nostalgic past, the place is reminiscent of Alcatraz, down to the cooking.

Hal and Melanie are both unique romance characters. He's interested in Margarita, a rich woman who won't want his fortune. He also wants a child and the fact that Margarita has a three-year-old son, means that she's fertile and not afraid to ruin her figure. He does wonder, however, if it's normal to put a three-year-old in boarding school.

It didn't take me too many pages to decide that Hal's speech definitely bothered me. He uses no contractions. Melanie is normal and when Margarita drops her British accent, she sounds like an East Coast gangster . . . youse guys, he don't, we ain't, etc.

At the middle of the book I thought it was nearly finished. It seemed to be coming to a conclusion. A whole new plot line appears, and we're off and running. Being an advocate of sedentary exercise, I was too tired to sustain much interest.

Bonnie Tucker's I've Got You, Babe is far from weird. Try charming...engaging...delightful. I've only read two of Bonnie's three books, so I don't know if all her heroines tend to be guileless, unaffected and trusting, but the two I've met are. Twenty-four-year-old Diana Smith is daydreaming on the plane as she heads to Texas from her third?...fourth? college. She's been asked to leave Oxford, Brown and now Yale. As a chemistry major, her goal is to do something that will benefit mankind. All she's done thus far is cause explosions.

Her daydreams center around Nick Logan, a man she's loved for many years. The Smiths and the Logans own rival construction companies. The fathers cultivate a hate relationship, but the offsprings are interested in each other. Smarting from her stepmother's perfidy, Diana runs into Nick, who's babysitting his toddler niece. Relieved that he's not married, Diana offers her help. His niece does nothing but scream in his arms. He's at his wit's end.

Their babysitting collaboration gives them the idea that the family rivalry needs to end. The fathers need to make peace. Their plan to end the war is the stuff that comedic novels are made of.

The only off-kilter feel to this story is Diana's father and number five step-mom. They were caricatures, more inane than I'm comfortable with, but Nick's strength, goodness and sexiness make it easier to overlook the absurdity of Diana's relatives.

The three-heart rating was the result of simple math. If one story is a three-heart rating and another book's rating is a four, that still averages out to a 3.5, and we don't break hearts. Or split hairs. Or use pluses or minuses. Here's the best analogy I can think of. If you find a skirt and blouse set that you really like and only one fits, do you buy it? Tough call, right?

--Linda Mowery


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