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Just What the Doctor Ordered

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Undercover Honeymoon

The Winner's Circle

Family Merger by Leigh Greenwood
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1524, $4.75, PG) ISBN 0-373-24524-6
This book suffers from what I think of as “chess-board-itis” - an ailment all too common in romance, particularly category romance. Instead of creating characters and building a story around how their strengths and weaknesses cause them to behave in a variety of circumstances, an author makes little cardboard cutouts and moves them wherever she needs them to go.

From a wealthy, genteel and highly dysfunctional family, Kathryn Roper knows what it’s like to feel isolated, inadequate and guilty. That’s why she’s established a refuge for unwed mothers using the large house and sizeable inheritance left to her by her grandmother.

Although she often deals with her girls’ difficult families, nothing has prepared her for widowed millionaire Ron Egan. Ron shows up on her doorstep, having abandoned important merger negotiations in Geneva, demanding to see his sixteen-year-old daughter, Cynthia. He’s furious that she ran away from home, and the staff he provided to care for her, without telling anyone she was pregnant (he found out when Kathryn contacted him).

Ron hauled himself up by his bootstraps from a trailer on the wrong side of the tracks. He’s defensive about the difference in their social positions as well as furious with Kathryn for suggesting that that he has somehow neglected Cynthia. That doesn’t stop him from getting turned on by the sight of her rear end leaving the room.

I can’t help wondering if the author really understood the picture she painted of these two characters. Kathryn is so stiff and controlling she has a “questionnaire” that any man must pass before she’ll go out with him. This impression of rigidity is emphasized by Kathryn’s endless self-examination, inserted liberally throughout every conversation and activity. Unfortunately it doesn’t make her more interesting; it makes her look as though she can only look at things through a microscope.

Thus, it is totally inexplicable when she suddenly tears the poker out of her tailpipe and jets off to Geneva with Ron for a dirty weekend (in his private place, of course). But Kathryn hasn’t exactly turned into a free spirit. Here’s what she’s thinking when they’re in bed together for the first time.

“Ron let his fingertips trail down her side. He moved up and across her abdomen before it started to tickle. Laughing would be the wrong thing to do just now even though she almost couldn’t help it. She’d have to warn him about that in the future.

“In the future. So she’d already made up her mind that there would be a future for them. She hoped he felt the same way. She was falling more in love with him every moment. Before long she’d be in too deeply to pull back.

“But she didn’t mean to think about this now. This was the moment to let go, to throw off all fetters, to forget all restraints...”

If only. He thinks they’re making love but she’s critiquing his technique and deciding their future. And heaven forbid she laughs anywhere, much less in bed.

Although he is more impulsive and slightly less introspective, Ron is no less self-involved and very manipulative. The author has established this so thoroughly that Ron appears to do everything to achieve his own ends - and if he gets credit for being altruistic at the same time, so much the better. In the end, he was scarcely more sympathetic than Kathryn.

As a result, when Kathryn thinks that she has no idea why she’s attracted to Ron, my response is “me either.” Other than some mutual concern for Cynthia and some awkward lust, these two didn’t connect in a believable way at all.

In fact, the only character who really came to life was Cynthia. Her feelings of rejection by her father, her frustrated longing for his time and attention, and her reluctance to accept that she actually is important to him are by far the most real and involving elements of the book.

A good chess game, like a good book, is a blend of careful planning and passionate spontaneity. For their romance to be convincing, Kathryn and Ron needed a little less of the first quality and a lot more of the second.

-- Judi McKee

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