Daddy by Default by Muriel Jensen
(Harl. American # 737, $3.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-16737-7
***
Daddy By Default is a well-written book, as Muriel Jensen's books usually are. The characters sound real and the setting and background are a nice fit. But the plot had a couple of truck-sized holes in it, which made me unable to completely enjoy it.

Hospital administrator Darrick McKeon is stunned to find that a mysterious woman has checked into his hospital under a false name and used a large cash deposit to pay her delivery bills. After giving birth to twins, she has disappeared. The father named on the birth certificate is D.K. McKeon.

This doesn't exactly make everything crystal clear. Darrick's initials are D.K., but so are those of his two brothers. One is a doctor, off in Nicaragua. One is an actor. And the only woman Darrick has been with in the last nine months is pilot Skye Fennerty, who saved his life in a small-plane crash and then shared a night of passion as they waited for rescue. His attempts to contact her afterward were unsuccessful. But would she really abandon her babies to his care? And are they really his?

For a hospital administrator, Darrick is a dumb cluck when it comes to paternity tests. In fact, the idea never crosses his mind, which I found fairly preposterous. Instead, he bundles up the three-day-old twin girls and makes his way to Mariposa, California, where he tracks Skye down at an airfield and demands to know what the heck is going on.

Skye is quick to insist that she and Darrick should marry for the sake of the twins. Smell a rat? Me, too. I won't give away the crux of the plot here, but savvy readers will hear warning bells ringing by page 145. In the meantime, Skye and Darrick marry and begin to create some sort of a family together. They spend time at a beach house. They grow closer. Sex is out of the questions, given how recently Skye has given birth, so their physical romance is limited to touches and shoulder rubs.

I was sorry that the plot left me feeling so exasperated, because the author created two very likable people, ones I could easily imagine meeting. Skye is presented as a sensible, level-headed woman who longs for the family she was denied as a child. Darrick, from a loving family, finds he revels in having one of his own. They were both charming.

But to receive my wholehearted recommendation, plot is definitely a factor, and this one just didn't work for me. I found myself rolling my eyes and even scoffing at one secondary element involving jewel thieves who are modern-day Robin Hoods. (Pay attention to that segment, though it's important to the story and will no doubt figure in the next two books of this trilogy.)

Daddy By Default gets a three-heart rating by default, based on excellent writing and strong characterizations. I'm curious to see if the next two books in the series make better sense, but hints of a secret baby plot make for caution signs.

--Cathy Sova


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