Under The Covers by Rita Herron
(Love Spell, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-505-52488-0
***
Dr. Abigail Jensen is the latest media sensation thanks to her new book, Under the Covers. Abby is a marriage counselor who wrote the book to help monogamous couples communicate more effectively. Unfortunately, all the media can harp on is the s-e-x - even calling her the Dear Abby of the bedroom. As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, on the same day that her book is released, she gets a Dear John letter from her husband. Seems Lenny likes men just as much as Abby does.

Mortified, she also learns that her marriage is a sham - they were married by a con man. However, the hits just keep on coming - what if Lenny was in on the scam from the very beginning? With her book poised to be a big success, her publicist wants a media blitz - and everyone wants to meet Dr. Abby’s new husband.

Hunter Stone is a reporter for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution who is eager to climb up the ladder - and Dr. Abby Jensen is his first class ticket. He just knows this woman is hiding something and he’s going to dig up enough dirt to get him that investigative reporting job he’s been gunning for. Not only that, it sure would feel good to get back at the woman he feels is responsible for the break-up of his first marriage.

Abby’s publicist isn’t going to budge, so she figures her only option is to hire an actor to impersonate Lenny. Her younger sister happens to be a budding actress. Not so lucky is that the man Chelsea has hired to play Lenny is none other that Hunter Stone.

Under the Covers works when the focus is solely on Abby - she’s really a likeable heroine. Lenny’s deception has sent her self-esteem in a tailspin. How can she be giving advice to couples when she couldn’t figure out the man she thought she married was not only a con artist but also gay? She’s a natural born caregiver, having spent her childhood being more responsible than her parents. She has a grand relationship with her two sisters - Chelsea, the free spirit and Victoria, the no-nonsense lawyer.

It takes considerably longer to warm up to Hunter - mainly because he’s an idiot. He blames the failure of his first marriage on Abby. Why? Because his wife attended one of her seminars. Uh huh. Thankfully, once he begins to spend time with Abby he starts to reevaluate his preconceived notions. It’s during these moments when Hunter is questioning what he thinks he knows, and what he thinks he feels, that his character begins to polish up as hero material.

Unfortunately, Under the Covers tries too hard in the madcap, zany comedy department and it detracts from the love story. There are all sorts of wacky adventures that only resorted in my groaning, and rolling my eyes - most of which involve Chelsea. Whether she’s dressing up like a banana to land a TV commercial or passing herself off as a stripper - when she’s not spending sisterly time with Victoria and Abby she firmly sits in too-stupid-to-live territory. The final straw was the farting dog.

There’s also the small, very annoying matter of Hunter’s five-year-old daughter, Lizzie. She’s among the insufferable crop of romance novel children who talks in unending baby-talk, dripping enough sugary sweetness on the page to put a diabetic in a coma. I kept hoping someone would smother her in her sleep - maybe along with the farting dog.

Strip away the wackiness, as well as the cutesy kid, and Under the Covers is a fine contemporary read. It may register higher marks for readers looking for screwball comedy. This reviewer was just worn out from wading through wacky land to get to the romance.

--Wendy Crutcher


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