Under the Boardwalk
by Linda Howard, Geralyn Dawson, Jillian Hunter, Miranda Jarrett & Mariah Stewart
(Sonnet, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN: 0-671-02794-8
The cover blurb for Under the Boardwalk provides the link which ties these five rather disparate short stories together. It calls them “all new summertime love stories.” I guess the anthology’s title and its cover led me to expect stories set in ocean resorts (my favorite places is all the world and where I happen to be at this very moment.) Well, such is not really the case at all. Four of the stories do take place around large bodies of water; the other is set in an Alabama bayou.

Despite the lack of a truly unifying theme, these are all well written and enjoyable tales by talented authors. Just the thing for reading on the beach, which is exactly what I did.

My favorite of the bunch is the one which most closely met my expectations, Mariah Stewart’s “Swept Away.” Most of the story takes place in “Ocean Point, N.J.,” a town that truly resembles the South Jersey shore resorts I know and love. Private investigator Jeremy Noble needs a vacation; he also needs to see if the attraction he felt for the chef at Laura Bishop’s Maryland shore inn is the real thing. But when he arrives at the inn, he finds that Jody Beckett has gone on a vacation of her own, to Ocean Point where she spent her teenage summers. It happens that Jeremy was raised in the Pine Barrens near Ocean Point. He has not been back since a tragedy destroyed his family.

But the allure of spending time with Jody leads Jeremy to return to his old haunts. Together, they do all the things that folks do on a shore vacation while they fall in love. With Jody’s support, Jeremy can at last face the pain of the past and move on to the future.

Miranda Jarrett’s novella, “Buried Treasure” is my other favorite. A sort of a prequel to her new book, Moonlight, it is set on the Massachusetts coast in 1722. Zach Fairbourne’s half-sister Miriam Rowe is about to marry Mr. Chilton Chuff who is about to take up a teaching post at Harvard. Zach does not approve. He thinks that Miriam is still in love with their childhood friend, Jack Wilder. Jack, the son of a noted pirate, had been spirited away by two of his father’s old shipmates four years earlier and had taken up a pirate’s life. Now he is back in Westham and he has enlisted Zach’s help in convincing Miriam that dull respectability is not for her. This is a light-hearted tale of love lost and regained.

Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the other three stories as well.

“Ruined” by Jillian Hunter is set on the Cornish coast in 1843. Lovely Sydney Windsor is yachting with three of her fiance’s friends (she has, to her surprise, become engaged to a duke), when the boat runs afoul of some treacherous rocks. The party is rescued by Lord DeWilde, generally known as “Wicked” DeWilde, renowned both for his wicked ways and the frightening novels he and his brothers write (think a 19th century Stephen King.) Rylan is immediately taken by the sweet and beauteous Sydney and knows that her dissolute betrothed is not worthy of her. He will have her to wife if he has to ruin her to do so, and Sydney finds ruin in the arms of “Wicked” a deliciously enjoyable experience.

Geralyn Dawson provides a story of a “second chance at love.” Ten years earlier Drew Coryell and Hannah Mayfield had married, but her outraged papa arrived before the vows could be consummated. A beach bum who lived on an island off Galveston was not good enough for his daughter. In the intervening decade, Drew has become a success as the owner of the Castaway Bait Company, which produces some of the best fishing lures around. Hannah revisits Castaway Island to convince Drew to donate his family’s copy of the Texas Declaration of Independence to the state. She doesn’t realize that Drew is no longer a ne’er do well. Ten years have not dimmed the love between the two, but they have some hurts and misunderstandings to overcome before they can admit their feelings. Dawson makes delightfully humorous use of the names of Drew’s lures, including the “8 inch Throbbing Bob.”

Of course, the featured story is by Pocket lead author, Linda Howard. “Blue Moon” is vintage Howard. Sheriff Jackson Brody hates full moons and this month there are two of them. His dispatcher warns him that troublemaker Thaniel Vargas was seen heading up the bayou towards the home of Delilah Jones. As a relative newcomer to the county, Jackson doesn’t know about Lilah Jones, but he knows that Thaniel is up to no good.

Lilah is a recluse with special powers. She can read people’s auras and she sometimes experiences precognition. When Sheriff Brody rides to her rescue, she realizes that he is the man she is going to love. Thaniel flees, but he steals their boats. Marooned by a thunderstorm, Jackson and Lilah enjoy a night of love. But then Thaniel turns up dead.

The stories in Under the Boardwalk have, as you can see, little to do with boardwalks. But if you happen to be sitting on a beach near or under a boardwalk, and want a fun book to read, this one will do nicely.

--Jean Mason

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