Miami Heat by Berta Platas Fuller
(Pinnacle Encanto, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-7860-1022-3
****
Miami Heat is a thoroughly enjoyable contemporary romance between a young woman struggling to keep a family business afloat and a man she thinks she detests. It's witty, engaging, and just plain fun.

Miriam Gutierrez is managing to keep her late grandfather's cement contracting company from going under -- barely. She's just ahead of the bills, and to add to her woes, her mother is pushing marriage at her and her cousin's wedding is fast approaching. Miriam needs a date, if for no reason than to get her mother out of her hair. It certainly won't be anyone like Pete Crane, engineer on the latest project her crew is working on. He's obviously one of those chauvinistic types, just the kind to rub her the wrong way. But there must be some way to appease her mother.

Miriam impulsively offers a new acquaintance the use of her spare bedroom in exchange for his escort services to the wedding. Since Curtis, her new-found pal, needs a place to stay and all the local hotels are filled, this seems like the perfect solution. Relieved, Miriam reluctantly agrees to have dinner at her mother's, where Mama is promising she'll meet a nice young man. Her brother's old college roommate, in fact. Miriam is astonished when he turns out to be Peter Crane.

Okay, the likelihood of this happening in a city the size of Miami is a little remote, to say the least. Pete and Miriam soon discover they have quite a mutual attraction. But what can Miriam do? Curtis is all set to play the jealous boyfriend. Pete is a blond Anglo, seemingly from another world. Are their differences insurmountable?

What follows is a lively, fast-paced story as Miriam struggles to balance Mama, Pete, Curtis, the wedding, her well-meaning cousins, and her job, and still maintain her sanity. Pete and Miriam have a ways to go to overcome their misconceptions, even as they fight their attraction, and it's a fun trip. With all these factors working against them, it's an uphill battle for their romance.

Both the lead characters are warm and realistic. I did wonder if the author had done all of her homework regarding Miriam's occupation, though -- one initial scene has her slogging through wet cement and filling her sneakers with it, which could very well lead to serious burns from the lye in the cement. That made me pause. But it was no more than a moment's worth, and Miriam's sassy determination left me smiling.

I wonder if Curtis just might show up in his own book, too.

Miami Heat is a worthy addition to the Encanto lineup, and readers looking for a sparkling contemporary with a strong dash of humor won't be disappointed.

--Cathy Sova


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