Stranger in Her Bed

Uncle Sarge by Bonnie Gardner
(Harl. American # 876, $3.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-16876-4
Rich Larsen, U.S. Air Force Combat Controller, is a hero. Not because he has been in battle or can parachute into trouble when need be, but because he has taken on the care of his small niece and nephew. He may know about the military, but heís never been trained in childcare. He hadnít even met his small relatives until recently because his dysfunctional family had split up long ago.

But he loves his sister and sheís in the hospital with a broken neck, widowed from the car accident that immobilized her . . . and she has those two kids. Rich knows heís in trouble even while he accepts the responsibility. On the other hand, the private detective heíd hired, Jennifer Bishop, helped him out by finding his sister. Somehow he hopes she can help him out with lots more. Helping with the kids would be a nice start.

Jennifer knows about guys like Rich. She was married to one. Theyíre big and tough and macho but lousy with marriage. They live for thrills and eventually run away with other women. Thatís too bad, since Rich is awfully good looking. On the other hand someone has to help those poor kids, even though Jennifer doesnít know much about childcare herself. Ready or not, Jennifer finds herself volunteering to become part of a temporary family.

The two of them stumble through diaper changes, teething, small child illness and romance. Rich is as wary of commitment as Jennifer thought he would be, though not for the reasons her ex-husband had. He figures heís inherited his fatherís bad genes and would make a mess of family relationships. Jennifer sees how he learns to deal with his newfound family and starts to wonder how bad it would be to get serious about Rich.

The plot to Uncle Sarge is nothing new, though the characters here are likable and realistic. Rich learns to juggle a demanding family and equally demanding job; Jennifer learns to rethink some of her prejudices after her divorce and remember what she liked about military life. There arenít any huge problems here besides the two charactersí misconceptions about themselves and each other.

Some of that seems a little unbelievable. Rich takes to family life - which includes an invalid sister - with amazing ease (if you donít count all the sleep deprivation from combining romance and restless children.) In fact, he handles it all better than most folks who had long-term stable family relationships would.

But this isnít a story thatís meant to have big problems to solve. You feel confident Richís sister will recover well despite her multiple tragedies, the children donít seem to undergo any huge trauma, and you are confident thereís a HEA in store. This is a feel-good quick read, which may be just what youíd like to take with you on vacation. Enjoy.

--Irene Williams

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