Soldier and the Society Girl
by Vivian Leiber
(Silh. Rom. #1358, $3.50, G) ISBN 0-373-19358-0
****
From the first page to the very last, Soldier and the Society Girl was great fun to read, high humor at its finest. While this may sound like a chewing gum commercial, this story was pure reading enjoyment, featuring a bred-in-the-bone hero and a woman who is his true equal. I even hated to be interrupted while I was reading it, but real life interfered . . . that chore we call going to work. I did sneak-read during the day to get it finished. Soldier was such a good book that it made me leery of starting something else, for fear that I'd be disappointed in the next book.

Soldier and the Society Girl is another in the He's My Hero series, advertising the hero as "A protector, a provider, a friend and a lover he's every woman's hero." Vivian Leiber certainly paid attention to what Silhouette wanted. She's written every woman's dream of a bona-fide hero.

Lieutenant Derek McKenna is a quintessential American hero. Held in a Bagdad prison for more than two years, he led his imprisoned men on a successful escape, with nary a casualty. As prisoners, Derek considered it his responsibility to oversee their physical and emotional health. He was a shining example of a honorable, distinguished leader. The nation is enthralled with tales of his exploits, and the military wants to take advantage of his status and have him speak to various groups. He'll be excellent PR material.

The only problem is that Derek wants no part of this scheme. All he's dreamed about for his two years of imprisonment is going back to his family farm in Tennessee. He's so vehemently against this goodwill tour that he behaves like a yokel when he meets the Washington power brokers. He burps, juggles peanuts, and generally manages to gross them out. Or so he thinks. Make sure that you take note of how he drinks a Coke. And don't let your teenagers know about it. You'll cringe if you find them emulating Derek on this one, but you'll grin in private.

To save the day, in comes Chessey Banks Bailey, one of the Mayflower Banks Baileys, a protocol expert. Were all Mayflower passengers named with double last names? Chessey has been promised a BIG promotion if she can get the Lieutenant's manners in shape in seventy-two hours, in time for his New York debut. She's one of the poor Banks Baileys. Her father was disinherited years before when he married Chessey's Las Vegas showgirl mother. Chessey was young when they died, and she became a shoe string relative. Her grandmother is always waiting for Chessey's bad blood to show. What a witch of a granny.

Neither Chessey nor the power brokers realize that Derek's yokel act is just that, an act. This man is smart, intuitive and willing to manipulate the situation to his satisfaction. The Lieutenant is adamant. No New York, no new manners, nuttin'. Is Chessey going to kiss her promotion goodbye? Hah, not even for a second.

One of Chessey's duties is to drill Derek on proper forms of address. He needs to know how to address oh, say, cardinals vs. archbishops. Derek does love to irritate Chessey. Do you want me to tell you what I'd do if I was seated between Demi Moore and Julia Louis Dreyfus?

Vivian Leiber has made Derek and Chessey come alive. Both are three-dimensional, both are honorable, both are witty, and as Derek's father repeatedly says, "They're both pig-headed." Soldier is a story that's character-driven, and what delightful lead characters they are. While Derek is sure that Chessey, of the Mayflower background, won't be content to live on a Tennessee farm, he never belittles her. Kudos to Chessey for never thinking less of Derek because his ancestors came on a later ship. In fact, the more she is around him, the more she begins to realize that Derek is a hero on many levels.

The only problem I had concerned some of the secondary characters. All the ones in Derek's circle are realistically drawn, while Chessey's relatives and circle of friends are vapid and cardboard. Chessey's relatives seemed forced, as though they're a counterpoint to how good, how salt of the earth Derek's friends are.

In case I've been too subtle, here's my final thought. This book is charming and highly recommended. I liked and truly admired Derek and Chessey, and I'm so glad I got to read their story. They made me smile, grin, laugh and sigh with pleasure. Not a bad return on $3.50.

--Linda Mowery


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