Duets 17
by Cathie Linz & Isabel Sharpe
(Duets 17, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-44089-9
**
When it takes me over a week to read 377 pages, I'm either really busy or the book's really boring. Let's just say that I was looking for things to do rather than read Duets 17. Whoever combined these two stories did the readers a favor. It's not as though one of these stories is enjoyable and the other not, so there's no indecision about buying the book. Both stories are mediocre at best.

Cathie Linz has given us a story set in Colorado which combines two unlikely lovers. We have a hero who considers himself inferior, while the heroine is a college professor. Hailey Hughes has taken a year's sabbatical, moved back home and is going to be writing a book about Colorado outlaws, namely Cockeyed Curly and his lost gold.

Most of the research information Hailey needs is at Cord Best's home. As a teenager, Hailey's crush on him had made Cord's life miserable. He's still wary of her and slightly antagonistic, but this covers a tender heart. Cord lost his mother when he was young, and he's vowed never to be hurt again. It's also caused him to be a loner, sitting on the sidelines as he watches life go by.

Cord's and Hailey's dads are bitter enemies from way back and go out of each other's way to irritate the other. Their antics were more like schoolyard bully taunts than how grown men would behave. This whole plot line seemed ridiculous and certainly didn't help the story.

When Hailey finds information about Curly's gold, it ultimately leads to a big misunderstanding, a muddle that takes the rest of the story to straighten out. Hailey, who's been in love with Cord forever, it seems, won't even listen to him or give him a chance to explain. When characters behave immaturely or irrationally, I lose respect for them and lose interest in their story. The Cowboy Finds a Bride isn't new or original or entertaining, with its cardboard characters, last page resolution and oft-used plot line.

When I finished The Cowboy Finds a Bride, I was optimistic about The Way We Weren't. Hope springs eternal, I guess. A few pages into it, I knew this story wouldn't warm my heart, either. Amber Daniels has been unhappy for ten years. When she was eighteen, she fell in love with a young man, became his lover and then found out that he was dating her just to win a bet. Without waiting for his explanation, she severed contact and has wallowed in self-pity and her victim status all these years.

When she and a friend are at a bar and see the old lover, the same cad who took her virginity, Amber begins a plan of retribution which will last the whole book. She begrudgingly accepts a ride home with Lance Edwards, who doesn't acknowledge that he even recognizes her. That just adds fuel to Amber's hatred. Never mind that since college, she's slimmed down and has a new nose. In a petulant fit, she kicks his BMW and watches in shock as it begins to roll down the hill.

Amber is so pleased about wrecking Lance's car that she decides to wreck his life. After all, he ruined hers. She sabotages his apartment, his wardrobe, his girlfriend and his job. Not only did I find her plan for retribution too harsh and her hatred too pervasive, I began to actively dislike her. It's so out of character for a romance heroine to think that she's in love with someone and continue knowingly to damage his lifestyle.

Lance isn't guilty of anything that Amber accuses him of doing. The only guilt that he should bear is that he was too much of a coward to make Amber listen those ten years ago. He really was in love with her, but he's let Amber believe the worst for all these years. It's hard to determine if he's developed that much of a backbone during the ten year period.

As in the case with any two-heart rating, we advise you to think twice. Cathie Linz' characters misjudge each other and then one refuses even to communicate. Isabel Sharpe has given us one of the most unlikable, ultimately unsympathetic heroines in recent memory. Considering that Duets books come with two brand-new novels, I'm advising that you think twice . .. twice.

--Linda Mowery


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