The Most Eligible . . . Daddy
by Tina Leonard
(Harl. American #771, $ 3.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-16771-7
The Most Eligible . . . Daddy is a worthy addition to Harlequin's "Sexy Single Dads" series, but do not assume the hero will dominate the story. From the opening scene featuring a little old lady hurling her pocketbook while screaming at a non-existent thief, the female characters provide lots of entertainment.

The males in this tale are outnumbered, outclassed, outgunned clearly not her focus. Since Leonard follows a fairy-tale format, that may make sense, and The Most Eligible . . . Daddy is commendable as a modern fairytale.

Noreen Cartwright's grandmother and two great-aunts are a big improvement over imaginary angels and fairies. The pocketbook-hurling Hattie is a very down-to-earth "fairy godmother" intent on ensuring Noreen finds the right man.

Though perfectly happy working to make her farm profitable, Noreen is viewed by her doting grandmother and great-aunts as teetering on the brink of disaster as she heads pell-mell toward spinsterhood. Hattie decides it is time to take things into her own hands.

Noreen and her stepbrother inherited equal shares of the family farm in Rockwall, Texas, a semi-rural area north of Dallas. While she attempts to save the family acreage from encroaching development by raising a profitable crop, her stepbrother plots to sell the farm to support his Ferrari and other wannabe-playboy habits.

Noreen is no provincial hick overwhelmed by a slick urbanite. Rather she is a savvy, mature woman armed with a degree from Stanford who has a strong sense of responsibility toward all her relatives and a genuine love of farming. The idea of selling the farm is anathema. Of course, her "Mr. Right" turns out to be Parker Walden, a real-estate developer from Dallas.

Luckily, Tina Leonard is not limited by a traditional, fairytale format, leaving the villainous stepbrother Garrison stuck in that role til the end of time. Midway through the book it is clear a second romance is brewing watching the villain's transformation into a caring, responsible human being at the hands of a miniature dynamo is as much fun as watching for great-aunt Hattie's next trick.

A word of warning the book's four-heart rating here does not mean every fan of romantic fiction will enjoy it. The fairytale scenario is compelling, usually clever and never tedious, but will not appeal to everyone. In Leonard's tale, the men are less interesting and less well fleshed out than the female characters . Often, it is difficult to understand their motivations, though changes do occur as they react to events and the other characters in the story.

About three quarters of the way through the book Noreen and Parker engage in a sort of "He said - she said" dialogue about their favorite fairytales. Parker, after all, is the father of an adorable four year old. If anyone has missed Leonard's view that interesting females provide the focus in those tales, it will be rather clear at the end of their conversation. When Noreen points out her feeling that the king in "Sleeping Beauty" was unimaginative destroying a cottage industry rather than calling his advisors together and suggesting they invent a less lethal spinning wheel Parker labels her a cynic.

In many fairytales, women, good and evil, are multi-dimensional, while princes and kings seem rather flat and uninspired. As in those tales, in The Most Eligible . . .Daddy the "good" women get their men. Any tension in these male-female relationships disappears in a puff of smoke so quickly one would think Hattie waved it away with a magic wand. If you enjoyed the fairytales to which Tina Leonard pays homage here, you will surely enjoy her story.

--Sue Klock

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