The Determined Groom
by Kate Little
(Silh. Desire #1302, $3.99, R) ISBN 0-373-76302-6
Many readers complain loud and long about plots which depend on the “big misunderstanding.” I am not a purist in this regard. I know full well that the dynamics of human behavior and failures in communication can result in two otherwise intelligent and well-meaning people falling into this unhappy state. What I don’t enjoy is willful misunderstanding, that is when one of the characters, when provided with the information that will solve the problem, refuses to hear or believe what the other is saying. Then, this plot device seems contrived and becomes unacceptable. I fear that such is the case with The Determined Groom.

Laurel Sutherland’s family owns a summer home on Cape Cod; Connor Northrup’s father is the house’s caretaker and his mother is the housekeeper. Despite this difference in their social status -- Laurel being “to the manner born,” (yes, the blurb actually says this) -- Connor and Laurel were best buddies during the halcyon days of their youth. But Mrs. Sutherland died and her husband couldn’t bear to spend any time in the house she loved. So Laurel and Connor haven’t seen each other for five years.

The five years have seen some changes. With Mr. Sutherland’s support and a lot of hard work, Connor has graduated from Princeton and gotten his master’s degree. He’s about to begin his career in New York when his mentor invites him up to the Cape to attend Laurel’s engagement party. One look at Laurel, and Connor knows why he hasn’t been much interested in other women; he’s been in love with his childhood friend for years. One look at Connor, and suddenly Laurel doesn’t know why she agreed to marry her fiancé. A midnight rendezvous on the beach leads to a night of passion and a promise that they will work out the impediments to being together.

Fast forward seven years. Laurel married and divorced that fiancé. She is chief counsel for her family’s business, now run by her brother Philip. She is about to see Connor Northrup again for the first time since their night of love. When Connor never got in touch with her, she decided that he was only looking for a good time, a chance to score with a rich girl. She is not looking forward to the meeting.

Connor has called this meeting because his firm has just taken over the accounting responsibilities for Sutherland Industries and he has discovered some serious irregularities. It turns out that Philip has been skimming from the pension fund to make some risky investments that have gone south. Philip faces disgrace and probably prison. He wants Laurel to convince Connor not to reveal his scam. Connor proves amenable to convincing, with certain conditions. Philip must resign his position and turn over his half of the Cape Cod house to his sister. And Laurel must marry him.

Connor had left a letter for Laurel a day after that night, but when he never heard from her, he concluded that she preferred the safe course of marrying her social equal. But he never stopped loving Laurel and now, his chance has come. He is determined to win her back.

Which brings us to the problem with the plot. When Connor tells Laurel about the letter, she simply refuses to believe him. This allows the author to sustain the conflict, but it doesn’t make any sense at all. There are a number of plausible explanations of the disappearance of the letter, but rather than exploring the possibilities, Laurel continues to insist that Connor failed her.

The plot isn’t the only problem I had with The Determined Groom. I found the writing pretty pedestrian and the characters never really came to life. Thus, I suggest that readers may want to think twice before picking up this book.

--Jean Mason

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