Million Dollar Valentine
by Rita Clay Estrada
(Har. Tempt. #766, $3.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-25866-6
**
If ever two people needed counseling, it's the yo-yo lovers in Rita Clay Estrada's Million Dollar Valentine. Combine a new age kook with a starched underwear right winger, and you've got a story that doesn't set any better than Jell-O left at room temperature.

Through Valentine's Day, Crystal Tynan will be helping her aunt, the owner of an upscale floral shop in a trendy mall near Flagstaff. Due to a broken arm, Aunt Helen is going to let Crystal run the flower shop while her arm mends. The timing is good for Crystal; it's the end of ski season, and Crystal's job as a massage therapist at a ski lodge is on hold. Aunt Helen raised Crystal, now twenty-six, after her parents were killed. What Crystal really remembers about her childhood is that her parents argued constantly over money.

Crystal has a simple plan for avoiding all those financial headaches; she's going to marry a millionaire. My first misgivings surfaced when I read Crystal's criteria for Mr. Right. Her perfect millionaire needs to have these attributes: trust, a sense of humor, nice looks, a sense of adventure and the biggie, one who loves her as much as she loves him.

Mall manager Blake Wright is no Mr. Right for Crystal. First of all, he's not a millionaire. Also, he's a bit taken aback by this free spirit who's whooshed into his life. The son of a minister, Blake espouses the conservative viewpoint. Even though he knows that Crystal is not for him, he's still having trouble conquering his lust.

Blake takes Crystal to a party where she's an instant hit with his friends, but Blake is uncomfortable with her antics. Crystal dresses differently -- I'd say so . . . she's wearing an authentic Indian doeskin beaded dress and doeskin moccasins. She tells one person that she loves her aura, tells another that he reminded her of the soul of an Indian spirit god and ends up reading tea leaves.

Crystal and Blake tell themselves and each other for 98% of the book that they're yin and yang, too different to succeed as a couple. They'll be enjoying each other's company and, as annoyingly as flies at a picnic, one or the other will remember the differences and throw the romance off-course. Even with three pages left in the story, it's the same refrain. What doesn't seem to diminish is their sexual awareness.

This seemed to be one big Lust-fest which didn't convincingly turn into a Love-fest. When they agree that they really are opposites, Crystal comments that their attraction won't last. Blake says "I hope not." And he meant it.

From this kind of seesaw, adolescent behavior we're supposed to believe that love will conquer all. Blake sees them as different as ditch water and the ocean. but he gets his tail in a knot because Crystal is adamant about them not being right for each other.

She's just as wishy-washy. She's either crying over Blake, missing him or telling herself to get over him. Eight pages from the end of the book she still tells him that they have nothing in common. By then I believed it.

And here's the crowning blow, the incident which caused me finally to give up on these lovers. Blake is horrified by a Valentine window display that Crystal has done for the flower shop, one that he considers controversial and in bad taste. And what does he say to himself? It was Crystal all over . . . Embarrassing him. Is this a match made in heaven?

Oh, no, folks. This is not how I view love, not when people are jealous, act childishly, are embarrassed and try to change each other. Cupid's arrow missed the mark with Million Dollar Valentine, but Freud could have made a million.

--Linda Mowery


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