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Frisco Joeís Fiancee
by Tina Leonard
(Harl. American #977, $4.75, PG) ISBN 0-373-16977-9
****
Tina Leonard concocts 12 hunky cowboy brothers and enters the Harlequin series universe with her first entry in Cowboys By the Dozen. Distant and slightly surly brother Frisco is first out of the gate when he finds himself with a herd of single females, thanks to his older brotherís latest scheme.

Mason Jefferson thought that the 12 unruly brothers of Union Junction Ranch, AKA Malfunction Junction, could benefit from a womanís touch. However, since all the Jefferson men are terminally single, he figures a middle-aged housekeeper should fit the bill. Unfortunately an e-mail snafu brings 20 women from the Lonely Hearts Beauty Salon, and Mason is conveniently out of town. So that leaves the second brother in line, Frisco, to clean up the mess.

He no sooner sends the ladies packing back to the bus station when he discovers that pretty single mother, Annabelle Turnberry, was accidentally left behind with her two-month-old baby girl, Emmeline. Then the other ladies come back looking for the pair and find themselves iced in thanks to a winter storm. So now not only do the Jefferson bachelors have a whole herd of females on their hands, and a natural disaster to boot, but Frisco seems to have gone all softhearted over Annabelle and baby Emmie.

The number one reason I read category romance is the fun factor. I like a good costume drama as much as the next gal - but sometimes I like to read strictly for escapist fun. Thatís exactly how Leonardís latest should be approached - because readerís looking for a lot of depth and angst arenít going to find it here. However, if you want to forget the fact that your kids are going to be home for the summer for at least another month and your husband is driving you insane - well pick up this book and get lost for a couple of hours.

While the focus is on Frisco and Annabelleís burgeoning romance, there are plenty of other happenings going on that definitely signal that this is the start of a miniseries. There are a horde of other characters - including most of the brothers, a next-door neighbor, a truck driver, and the other ladies from the Salon. Thereís also mention of the rival beauty salon that has been driving the Lonely Hearts ladies steadily out of business. The whole thing kind of reminded me of a serialized soap opera without all the bed hopping and angst.

I like Frisco, Annabelle and baby Emmie - and Leonard has no problem convincing me that theyíll make a blissfully happy little family. However, what really makes this story work are the quirky characters and often amusing storytelling. No fooling, the author names the rival beauty salon the Never Lonely Cut-N-Gurl - and thatís merely the tip of the iceberg.

Readers looking for depth will probably remain unmoved, but those looking for an escape from reality and a plain old good time should find plenty to like in Leonardís writing style and story. With the following three books coming out in quick succession, the author and Harlequin are undoubtedly hoping to grab readers hook, line and sinker. Theyíve already managed to rope in this curious reviewer.

--Wendy Crutcher


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