Daddy by Default

First Born Son

Gift-Wrapped Dad

The Hunk & the Virgin

Father Fever by Muriel Jensen
(Harl. American #850, $4.25, PG) ISBN 0-373-16850-0
Father Fever is the first of three "Who's The Daddy?" books. Father Formula (HAR #855) will be released in January, followed by Father Found (HAR #866) coming in March. Each book features one of the Ames triplets and three handsome bachelors, all who meet at a masked dress ball. The main connection throughout the books is that seven months later, one of the sisters is pregnant, thus the "Who's The Daddy?" thread.

Here's the framework. The Ames triplets have an aunt who dies in a plane crash, leaving her house to a man none of the sisters know, David Hartford. David and two of his friends are now living on the property. The sisters decide to investigate David, and when they realize that he's continuing their aunt's tradition of hosting a masked ball, they decide to go incognito, each latching onto one of the men, fortuitously dressed as the Three Musketeers.

What they don't know, but we do from the very beginning, is that the men are recently retired from the CIA. They're good guys but their spy work makes trusting someone an occasionally tricky issue.

When the story resumes seven months after the meetings at the masked ball, David Hartford and Athena Ames each see a television news spot of a young woman, heavily pregnant, who's now hospitalized after being pulled from the Columbia River, suffering from amnesia. Foul play or bad luck? David thinks it's his elusive love from the ball, while Athena knows that it's one of her sisters, but which one?

David and Athena meet at the hospital, only to discover that the pregnant sister is missing. David knows he's the father and Athena thinks he is, too, until he describes the costume that his ‘date' had worn. Suddenly Athena knows that David isn't the father because a) a combination of allergy medication and alcohol rendered him unconscious before anything happened and b) Athena was the one with him all evening and would have certainly remembered being made love to by this charismatic man. But, alas, he was well and truly unconscious.

Athena is reluctant to tell David the truth, for various reasons. Remember, she still doesn't know why David inherited her aunt's house. Can he be trusted? Will he help her search for her missing sister if he knows that he's not a prospective father? And will he be able to transfer his feelings of affection to the ‘right' sister?

Unlike many of Muriel Jensen's books, this one has more emphasis on the plot, which is constantly evaluating the question of parentage. It's engrossing and fun to read, but I did miss her usual careful attention to character development. She still shows that deft touch for great dialogue. When David and Athena first meet at the ball, she mentions the Three Musketeers costumes that the men are wearing.

He laughed. "You noticed. I guess the costumes are corny, but we saw them and sort of related, I guess."
"To the fight against despotic evil?"
"Nothing so noble," he denied candidly. "To the camaraderie, the tankards of ale, the wenching."
She tsked. "Wenching isn't healthy."
"Yeah, well, like a lot of men, I talk more than I do."

With six characters to keep straight, it takes some doing. The triplets' alliterative names make it tough to remember each sister . . . Athena, Augusta and Alexis. The men are a bit easier to keep in place. With names like David, Bram and Trevyn, there's no alliteration to contend with, although the last two names seem to come from the Heathcliff Dictionary of Manly Names. Ever known a Bram or Trevyn in real life?

You can bet that I'll be buying books two and three. The plot framework is firmly in place, so we can sit back and enjoy the remaining love stories. With Muriel Jensen at the wheel, I know that we can expect a fun, entertaining ride.

--Linda Mowery

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