Manhunting in Memphis
by Heather MacAllister
(Harlequin Temptation #669, $3.75, PG) ISBN 0-373-25769-4
****
How many of us have filled out coupons or forms which, if we win, will give us gym memberships or free photos or bigger, more exciting stuff like cars or cruises? Well, Hayley Parrish fills out one of those innocuous forms and wins a complete wedding package, from the dress to the trousseau to the honeymoon. All of that would be wonderful if she had a fiancÚ, but there's not anybody in whom she's even interested. Luck is on her side, though. She's won the Sweetheart Valentine Wedding, and she's got many months to find a groom.

Her family, however, doesn't know that she's madly searching for Mr. Right. In a moment of pique and self-protection, Hayley made up a fiancÚ, one Sloane Devereaux who works in the Middle East . . . where they do not allow women. Seems old Sloane is so busy that he won't be here until the wedding.

Hayley's marriage will allow her mother to sell her home and move to Arizona to live with Hayley's grandmother. That's another reason Hayley's got to find that groom. Her mother's future is at stake, too. Owww, maternal guilt. Works darn near every time.

The next major scene occurs close to the wedding date. Hayley has been forced to hire an actor to be her pretend groom. Her husband hunt has been a bust. The actor's okay and he'll do, but there are no sparks. That's good, because on the morning of the big performance, when Hayley's 'groom ' is to show up to meet her family for the first time, the actor slips, hits his head, is concussed and ends up in the hospital.

Luck is in evidence again. The actor has a best friend who's going to stand in for him. Justin Brooks is an IRS attorney who's got his life mapped out. He's in major debt from school loans, but plans to accept a job with a high dollar firm. He's going to cut loose and have fun for the first time in his life, but right now he's willing to help out his actor friend.

Well, when Hayley and Justin a.k.a. Sloane meet, there is instant chemistry. Both are dismayed, but for different reasons. Hayley knows that she's not going to be marrying this man, but she'd sure like to get to know him better. For Justin the timing is all wrong. His dreams of being debt-free and carefree are about to come to fruition. He's met Hayley at the wrong time.

This story had me laughing, chuckling, grinning and totally enjoying myself as I watched their carefully made 'wedding' plans and life plans be totally undone. Both are interesting, neat people. When Hayley introduces "Sloane" to her family, they haven't had time to get their stories straight. Explaining that "Sloane's" parents can't be present at the wedding, Hayley's mother is not satisfied.

"But . . . but this is his wedding."
"My parents are very sorry they can't be here," he said. "They're---"
"They're dead," Hayley interrupted.
"I was going to say that they'll be here in spirit," he continued.

Imagine pages and pages of them almost getting their stories straight as Hayley and Justin realize that luck has finally been good to them...but at the wrong time.

This story was, for me, literary Prozac. I had a wonderful time reading it. Both Hayley and Justin have sunny dispositions and ultimately discover that they are two parts of a whole. The only reason that I didn't give this a five heart rating is that Justin is just a little slow on the uptake regarding Hayley's importance in his life. That is truly my only quibble with the book. We're told why Hayley's marriage is so important to her mother, so it's easy to overlook her mom's interfering attitude. It's really based on caring.

On a basic level, Manhunting is based on caring. Hayley cares about her mother; Justin cares about his injured friend enough to take his place in Hayley's madcap scheme. There's also the deeper caring that Hayley and Justin ultimately discover for each other. If you want a Valentine treat to go along with your box of chocolates, this is it. Non-fattening and fun, too. That's a good combination. So are Hayley and Justin.

--Linda Mowery


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