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Tangled Sheets by Jo Leigh
(Harl. Tempt. #727, $3.75, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-25827-5
**
Tangled Sheets is another of "The Wrong Bed" series, only there are no tangled sheets or beds. Our lovers find themselves making love in a closet . . . in the middle of her engagement party . . . and he's not her fiancé.

Houston society darling Maggie Beaumont's engagement party is so tailored to her that it's even a winter color scheme. Heaven forbid that it have any spring or summer colors anywhere in evidence. Maggie is dressed as Christine from Phantom of the Opera, and her fiancé Gary is the Phantom. What Maggie doesn't know is that her younger sister has invited her ex-husband Spencer to the party and has even supplied him with a look-alike Phantom costume.

Maggie and Gary have a companionable, if tepid, relationship. They suit. How . . . nice! Maggie describes Gary as a man she could look up to, a man who isn't "obsessed with the baser things in life like sex." But Maggie gets itchy to see how well they suit and grabs Gary the Phantom, dragging him wordlessly into a closet, where they do "the wild thing." Maggie realizes that she and Gary will suit quite well in the bedroom, thankyouverymuch. Imagine Maggie's chagrin when she later spots two Phantoms together, an impeccably dressed fiancé and a mussed ex-husband.

Oh, well, Maggie and Spencer were always hot in the bedroom, that's the one place they were in synch. Spencer, back in Houston after making his fortune, was poor when he and Maggie were married. What ultimately caused their split was a fraudulent résumé that Maggie wrote for him. Maggie defends her actions to her father. "Dad, I just wanted to help him get a job. He was so desperate, and it's not like I said he was a doctor or anything. What difference would it have made if people thought he went to Wharton instead of the University of Texas?"

Spencer has a tarnished crown himself. He's really just back for his pound of flesh and wants to flaunt his good fortune in Maggie's face and then leave her in the dust, making her realize that she had made a horrible mistake when she let him walk away.

Other than a few moments when the characters rose about the mundane, this story kept going downhill. What really ticked me off was that, for most of the book, Maggie almost incessantly denies that she still cares for Spencer. Gary the wuss is worried about what people will say when they find out that Spencer is back in town and staying at her family's guest house. Spencer accepts their hospitality while he looks for his mansion to buy, one that will impress Maggie even more. In a ridiculous scene in which Maggie becomes aware that Spencer is paying undue attention to her cleavage, she primly informs Spencer, "You have no right to look there. They belong to Gary now."

Sometimes secondary characters can provide some much needed strength. Not here. Maggie's father, her sister and her best friend add depth, but dear old Mom is a travesty, snobbery at its best. She never liked Spencer the Poor but is enthralled with Gary of the Good Breeding. " You're just lucky he'd have you, after you'd been with Spencer." Thanks for all the warm fuzzies, Mom.

Lest you think that I've been unduly harsh and that surely Maggie has some redeeming features, here's what we learn about her when she was married to Spencer. He bought her an inexpensive clock for twenty-two dollars. Maggie didn't like it and returned it, then bought a thousand-dollar Baccarat crystal vase. Years after he's left, she finally realized that she'd humiliated him, time and again. Is Maggie playing with a full deck? That's closer to degradation than humiliation.

By the end of the story Maggie and Spencer are back together. I didn't like him, I liked her less and thought they deserved each other. Characters this silly, this superficial, this unlikable belong together. They just don't belong in a romance novel.

--Linda Mowery


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