Cinderella For a Night

Delicious

Dream Groom

Irresistible

Living On the Edge

The Marcelli Bride

Prince Charming, M. D.

Prodigal Son

Quinn's Woman

The Rancher Next Door

The Sheik's Kidnapped Bride

Sizzling

The Summer House

Sweet Success

Sweet Talk

Tempting

The Wedding Ring Promise

Wife in Disguise

Wild West Wife

 
Sweet Spot
by Susan Mallery
(HQN, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-373-77314-5
****
Second in Susan Mallery's series about the Keyes sisters, Sweet Spot is a relationship-focused romance. It is a pleasant change from most stories of its kind in that it features relatively ordinary people and their ordinary problems.

Nicole Keyes has always been the responsible sister. She pretty much brought up her younger sister Jesse when their mother decided to accompany Claire, Nicole’s twin sister and a child prodigy, on her piano tours. Then, when her father decided to retire from the family business, Nicole took over.  Her efforts also helped support her husband Drew. Imagine her disappointment at finding Jesse and Drew in bed together.

At the beginning of Sweet Spot, Nicole has just kicked both her husband and sister out and is trying to pull herself together. When she catches a high-school boy shoplifting a box of donuts, she is determined to press charges. Eric “Hawk” Hawkins, the boy's football coach, hopes to discourage her. She agrees to allow Raoul to work off his debt at her bakery.

Despite his stunning looks, his athletic body and his womanizing reputation, Hawk is every bit as responsible as Nicole. When his high school sweetheart got pregnant, he married her against the wishes of her parents. With some scrimping and saving, they survived on his college football scholarship until he became a high-earning NFL player. When his wife died of cancer not much later, he retired to take care of their daughter, Brittany who is now a well-adjusted, if somewhat spoilt high school senior. He could easily spend his days doing sweet nothing; instead he coaches the high school team out of commitment. He applies the same dedication to pursuing Nicole.

Although Nicole is very attracted to the hunky football player, she remains true to herself and does not trust him. On the other hand, she is tired of being an object of pity and so strikes a bargain with him: she'll have sex with him, if he poses as her boyfriend. Then, as Nicole gets to know Hawk and becomes more involved in his life and in Raoul's and Brittany's, she realizes Hawk is a much better man than she believed, even if he still has his problems. Nicole also comes to terms with herself.

Both Nicole and Hawk are fun, well-rounded characters who do wonderfully well together. Despite her many insecurities, she always manages to stand up to him. The book could easily ride on her wise-mouthing banter and quick comebacks. It was also nice to see her relationships with others – Jesse, Claire, Brittany and especially Raoul.

Like most natural-born charmers, Hawk is occasionally quite insensitive and immature. He continues to mess up even in the last chapter, which made me appreciate the way Mallery did not always adopt the easy solution.

Hawk and Nicole's story is strongly intertwined with Britanny and Raoul's. These teenagers are not as finely drawn, and their relationship is much more predictable. Still, it adds important layers.

I have one small gripe. Nicole carries a cane most of the time and Hawk mentions her aching legs. The reasons for these health problems are never elucidated. It may feature in Sweet Talk, but I would have liked some clarification. Other than that, I strongly recommend Sweet Spot, especially to readers who like their family melodramas spiked with lots of laughter and hot romance. I look forward to reading Jesse's story, due out in September.

--Mary Benn


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