Mistletoe Kisses by Rachel Lee, Andrea Edwards & Cait London
(Silhouette, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-373-20153-2
****
Let me begin with a warning. If you are a long-time reader of category romances, you might want to check whether you have read any of these stories before. What Silhouette has done is to take three previously published books with a holiday theme and package them as an anthology.

If you weren't reading categories in the early 1990s or if you don't usually buy the series books, then I heartily recommend you pick up this book. What you will find are great stories by three of the best short romance authors, writing at the top of their form. For those who look down on the categories, this might be a good way to discover just how often good stories come in small packages.

My favorite of the three (and the one that will move this anthology onto my keeper shelf) is Rachel Lee's "An Officer and a Gentleman." This story is set on a Strategic Air Command base in frigid North Dakota. Colonel Alasdair MacLendon has just been appointed Wing Commander. His introduction to the base is not a happy one; he is sideswiped by a car that runs a stop sign and comes to in the arms of a very young looking security officer. Turns out this officer is Captain Andrea Blake, an Air Force Academy graduate and one of the most promising female officers in the force.

Andrea is an Air Force brat who is determined to succeed in a man's world. She has had no time for personal relationships. Dair has likewise devoted himself to his career after a failed marriage and is well on his way to becoming one of the youngest brigadier generals in the Air Force. These two lonely people are attracted to each other, yet the barriers to their relationship, both personal and professional, are high.

Few have a better feel for the military romance than Lee. And she includes a nicely done mystery about sabotage that the two must deal with. I will read "An Officer and a Gentleman" again, it's that good.

"The Magic of Christmas" is Andrea Edwards' entry in the anthology. Peter MacAllister is a widower. A bit over a year earlier, his wife was killed in an auto accident. His life since then has been bleak and lonely. His five year old son lives with his grandmother in Indiana while he pursues his career in Chicago. Peter's mother believes that it is time for him to move beyond his grief. When Peter discovers that she has planned to set him up with a woman over Thanksgiving, he announces that he is bringing a "friend" with him. All he needs to do is find someone to accompany him back home to Indiana.

Merry Roberts is a waitress at the restaurant where Peter always eats lunch. Her bubbling personality makes her a favorite with the customers. She is also a drama student at a local college. So when Peter offers her the role of acting as his "bodyguard," she decides to accept.

The results are perhaps predictable, but very well handled. Merry and Peter come from very different worlds. He is a multi-degreed professional; she is from the hills of Tennessee. And Merry has a secret that complicates their relationship still further. But "the magic of Christmas" works for them and for the reader.

Cait Logan's "The Pendragon Virus" is the most humorous of the three. Sam Loring is a hard driving executive with no life except his work. Dallas Pendragon is a stress management consultant who wants to humanize the workplace. When Dallas' seminars begin to bring Sam's employees' discontent to the surface, he challenges the need for any change to his company's employment practices.

Dallas offers a challenge of her own. Sam should find out what it is like to try to combine work and family. Sam takes one look at Dallas and says sure, he'll just move in with her and her two children. The humor comes from watching Sam learn what real life is like. But Sam also discovers just how much he has missed out on by concentrating so single-mindedly on his success.

Sam wants to make the arrangement permanent but Dallas has been burned by her immature first husband. And so Sam must find a way to convince Dallas that she needs him as much as he needs her.

Mistletoe Kisses is good value: three novels for the price of one. Even though it is after Christmas, it's not too late to catch the spirit.

--Jean Mason


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