Dinner for Two
by Arlene Evans
(Echelon Press, $12.99, PG) ISBN 1-59080-436-8
Debut author Arlene Evans has demonstrated a good sense of romantic bantering between her characters and a warm feeling of rightness at the end of the story. In Dinner for Two she pairs two unlikely people and makes it work.

Gene Haynes is a chef trying to establish a café and catering business, which he calls Dinner for Two. He will prepare dinner and serve it to you at your home. He is a hunk, but is a little weak in the confidence department due to his name (which generated feminine jokes) and his colorblindness (for which he was ridiculed when a teenager). It is at one of his dinners that he meets the love of his life.

Misty Jones is a struggling designer of floral arrangements and other knickknacks. She dreams of owning her own business, but lacks the finances. She has a friend whom she has known forever who became a millionaire due to an unexpected inheritance. Misty is loathe to impose but has spied an old Victorian house that would be perfect for a shop. She wants her friend, Raymond, to buy it and then lease it to her. So she sets up a dinner for two, hoping to keep it light and with a business atmosphere. Misty is specific when she orders the dinner from Gene. But Raymond has other ideas and gets a little amorous. Gene comes to her rescue and kicks Raymond out. Next thing we know, Misty is waiting tables at Gene’s restaurant to help him out and the romance is on.

The story takes us through their experiences as they dance around their attraction. Misty starts bringing her stuff in to sell and Gene reluctantly agrees. As the café does better, Misty and Gene settle into a nice routine and keep fighting the attraction. When Misty helps Gene capture a catering job for over 300 people, they have to pull in friends, including Misty’s roommate Lorna, and others to help pull it off.

Gene is a nice hero who has vulnerabilities while being very secure in his skills and masculinity. He likes Misty immediately but senses her reserved attitude and is a real gentleman. When he finally makes his move, she is more than willing.

Misty wants to be independent but finds herself needing others and enjoying being partners. This need wars with her inner voice telling her she has to stand alone. It is fun watching her discover that she can have both. She and Gene talk and banter like people who have known each other for years. They are comfortable, yet there is the spark they have to keep putting out. When Misty can tease Gene about his colorblindness and he is okay, you know they have a love that will last.

While I enjoyed the tale, it did require some leaps of faith. First, Raymond and Misty have apparently been bosom friends since childhood. It is hard to imagine that out of the blue Raymond would become an aggressive man seeking lovemaking and then be as rude as some of the interactions appear. He comes around in the end to be a good guy, but this switch seemed a bit off-center. Lorna is not a well-developed character. She seems flighty one minute and not so the next. Her secondary romance is a nice touch though.

The last quarter of the book involves a major adventure that was fun to read, but just seemed far-fetched. The purpose was to secure the romance and push the two into a happy ever after, but it pushed the envelop of probability and kept the story from a four heart rating.

Arlene Evans is a name to keep an eye on. Dinner for Two is a good start to her career.

--Shirley Lyons

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