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The Cowboy & the Shotgun Bride

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Mistletoe Daddy
by Jacqueline Diamond
(Harl. American #804, $3.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-16804-7
**
The hero and heroine of Mistletoe Daddy have to be two of the most immature characters Iíve come across in recent memory. I donít mean that they stomp their feet and have screaming fits and pout, because -- thank heaven -- they donít. In fact, theyíre quite adept at acting like adults. Itís just that neither one of them has any idea of how to be an adult in an adult relationship.

Maybe thatís because they started their relationship at such a young age. Marnie Afton and Tom Jakes met in their teens, back when Tom was the black sheep of Ryderís Crossing, Tennessee. Abandoned by his mother and kicked out of the house by his alcoholic father, Tom moved in with Marnie and her grandmother at the age of sixteen. They dated through college and married after graduation, but divorced four years later. Adding up all that time, Marnie and Tom have known each other too long to be as incapable of communicating as they are.

You see, in all those years prior to their marriage, it apparently never occurred to them to discuss the issue of children. Four years after their wedding, Marnie finally decides to bring up the subject, only to be shocked by Tomís honest admission that he doesnít want kids -- ever. His reasons are numerous -- he was raised in a loveless home, he doesnít think heíd be a good father, and besides, as a world-traveling employee of the Foreign Service, he values his freedom and flexibility too much to burden himself with children and their need for stability and community ties. Stricken, Marnie leaves him without bothering to have a nice long heart-to-heart.

As a result, theyíre left with a misunderstanding of sorts. Tom feels that Marnie left because she didnít love him enough -- she didnít want just him, she wanted a father for her children. Marnie actually left because she felt Tom didnít love her enough -- he didnít want a real wife or family, just a companion to participate in the parts of his life he was comfortable sharing.

Itís been four years since the divorce and they havenít talked about their feelings. But neither can forget the other, and neither can form a lasting relationship with anyone else. Now theyíre being brought together again by the coming Christmas holiday. Marnieís grandmother has summoned everyone home for the holidays -- including Tom and the new addition to his family. Thatís right -- Tom now has a son, but despite the bookís title and the two-year-old boy featured prominently on the cover, little Cody doesnít affect the story much.

The fact that he is now a father hasnít changed Tomís opinion -- he loves Cody and will raise him as best he can, but he doesnít want any more children and he still has no wish to be tied down to a community. Marnie, however, has formed some strong community ties back home in Ryderís Crossing, and if only she could find another man like Tom -- but one who wanted children -- sheíd be happy as a clam.

Itís obvious theyíre both still in love, and their chemistry is as strong as ever, but they still face the same dilemma. And they still donít know how to talk about it.

As I read back on this review, it seems that Iíve spent the bulk of it giving background information and restating the same basic points. Well, now that youíve read all that, you know what reading the first three-fourths of Mistletoe Daddy is like. By page 200, Marnie and Tom have bantered and kissed and danced around each other and romanced each other and sighed and moped and looked wistfully into the distance, but absolutely nothing has been resolved. At that point in the novel they are not one tiny bit closer to solving their problems than they were on page one, and I was so frustrated I wanted to slap both of them, or slap the book to the ground and forget Iíd ever started reading it.

They just canít talk to each other. First theyíre too proud and stiff, and then things keep interrupting them, and then they try to talk but canít find the right words. Nothing happens but pages and pages of cute Cody scenes and irrepressible Grandma antics and minor family crises that have nothing to do with the relationship the book is supposedly about. Finally, things get moving in the last fourth of the book, but by then I was so tired of these two that I didnít care if they lived happily ever after or not.

Mistletoe Daddy is not badly written, and it doesnít have one-dimensional characters or gaps of logic in the plot or a thousand other crimes against fiction Iíve come across in the past Itís just way too long. It might have worked nicely as a novella, but 200 pages of backstory and filler I can do without.

--Ellen Hestand


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