Fireworks by Cindy Hillyer
(Zebra Bouquet 28, $3.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-821-76442-X
Fireworks is Cindy Hillyer's first Zebra Bouquet. Initially, it seemed as though the story would live up to its title. Pediatrician Mary Katherine Channing and attorney Bullock Stockwell do seem incendiary. If they aren't snarling at each other, then their long glances and mutual basic awareness seem combustible. Much too soon, though, M.K, with her excess emotional baggage in the form of a dirty, rotten, lowlife ex-husband, is dousing cold water on the relationship.

When M.K. first meets Bull, they're in his New Orleans office as he deposes her in a divorce case. Bull is representing a sleazy husband whose wealth will possibly allow him to gain custody of his young daughter. M.K., as an expert witness, goes toe to toe with Bull. She resents the fact that he's representing the sleaze and trying to take a child away from a caring mother. M.K. had the same experience with her ex. Her genuine care and concern for her young patient make her testimony unshakeable and cause Bull to appreciate this woman who's so very different from the women he usually dates.

Bull, known in legal circles at Pit Bull, is by necessity taking a new, hard look at ‘motherhood' and childcare. He's now the guardian for his five-year-old niece, Margaret.. He's silently applauding M.K., a single mother herself, and is marveling at how this woman juggles a busy career and motherhood. Bull, for the first time in his illustrious bachelorhood, is aware of a woman, not because of her bra size, but because he's intrigued and impressed with someone who's not a shallow Barbie doll. He's quite taken with this genuine woman.

Bull's niece Margaret and Danny, M.K.'s son, are in the same kindergarten class and have become steadfast friends. When Danny defends Margaret from some kids who are teasing her, they both end up in the principal's office. Almost before Bull and M.K. know it, they find themselves organizing a Fourth of July extravaganza for their kids' kindergarten class. Ignore the fact that this is a December release; the story has nothing to do with Christmas.

At this point the story takes a wrong turn and didn't get back on track until far too late. M.K. allows herself to wallow in self-pity because her first husband was a lousy, two-timing, attractive lawyer. Is Bull just a carbon copy of her ex? She thinks so. They're both sinfully attractive, both ex-athletes, both lawyers. "And both were women magnets. It stood to reason that Bullock, like Glenn, was anything but husband material." M.K. has a disturbing habit of painting all men with the same brush. Condemning Bullock for his similarities to Glenn seems as logical as treating all illnesses with the same medication.

Next M.K. wonders if she can trust him? Can she trust herself? At one point M.K. convicts Bull without a trial or any evidence, only using hearsay and circumstantial evidence. And with only twenty pages to go, M.K. still harangues about the similarities between her ex and Bull. She won't let it go.

What I don't understand is how an author could give us such a shallow heroine and such a wonderful hero. Bull is M.K.'s 180 degree opposite. How would you like to have a dinner date with a man so involved in you that he almost misses his mouth with his fork because he can't take his eyes off of you? Well, Bull does exactly that.

Cindy Hillyer has a smooth, flowing writing style and writes first-rate sexual tension scenes. Her talent is apparent. I liked what I was reading except the times M.K. seemed to wallow in guilt and fear, seemingly reveling in it. The characters, so unbalanced and mismatched, made it difficult for me to completely enjoy Fireworks. I always felt that Bull deserved someone else.

--Linda Mowery

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