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Daddy 101 by Jo Leigh
(Harl. American #736, $3.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-16736-9
****
Alex Bradley, millionaire businessman and World Magazine's "Sexiest Man in the World," is getting his act together and taking it on the road. Well, sort of.

Alex's base of operations is moving from Los Angeles to New York. While his penthouse is being readied, Alex is embarking on a two-week road trip to see the America he'd only jetted over by plane. He plans to "stop at all the tourist traps and local diners and go to little country stores and hell, he might even see purple mountains' majesty and amber waves of grain." Alex really needs a vacation.

Armed with unabridged books on tape "he'd meant to read, but never had," his phone, fax, a portable computer and his trusty old dog Pete, Alex hits the road in his big black Mercedes. Five days into the trip, Pete develops a bronchial infection and Alex stops in Carlson's Gap, New Mexico. Dr. Dani Jacobson gets the call to care for his ailing pet. Their mutual attraction is immediate and frightens both of them.

Dani has her practice and is a single mother to Chloe, a 30-year-old woman trapped in the body of eight-year-old wonder kid with a 180 IQ. Her ex-husband walked out on them and she's just a bit wary of Alex who is "rich and sin and twice as handsome. The man who'd dated Cindy Crawford and Miss America." Dani immediately throws up an anti-rich hunk force field to keep Alex at bay.

Alex is carrying baggage of his own. In addition to being haunted by copies of the "sexiest man in the world" magazine designation, he's got a set of anachronistic rules for love handed down by his father. "Women are a wise investment and should be chosen using that criteria . . . Make sure she's an asset to your business, to your social standing. Beware of smart women . . ." These are just a few rules from Dad's manual for the care and feeding of a trophy wife. According to his checklist, Dani's obviously not marriage material. And she's determined not be a milepost on his cross-country trek.

Daddy 101 is a rule story and it's fun to see how long it takes before Alex's ironclad rules disintegrate. Along the way, he gets a lesson in real love and experiences the in-your-face and in-your-business subtleties of small town life. Dani learns that sexy, rich guys aren't so bad after all.

There is plenty of sexual tension between the two main characters. Their relationship unfolds naturally as a result of Jo Leigh's pacing, crisp dialogue and humor. A town full of secondary characters lurk about but never get in the way of the action. Smart-mouthed Chloe, who knows when to be a kid and when to share with her mother her observations on the "natural biological function" of mating that she's gleaned from the Discovery Channel is among my favorites.

There's also the caravan of eligible women in tight dresses bearing Martha Stewart-type recipes who beat a path to Alex.

There is an overabundance of "daddy stories" this season. Daddy 101 is one of the better ones.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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