has also reviewed:

The Butler Who Laughed

Stolen Hearts

Stolen Moments

The Long Shot by Michelle Martin
(Bantam, $5.50, PG) ISBN 0-553-57650-X
I devoured, and loved, Michelle Martin's two previous contemporary romances, Stolen Hearts and Stolen Moments. I even enjoyed her Regency novel The Butler Who Laughed, although I usually dislike the Regency genre. So imagine my disappointment when I found that The Long Shot left me cold. Like all of her previous novels, it has some strong selling points, but in this case a variety of weaknesses were evident as well.

Cullen MacKenzie, multi-millionaire corporate giant, returns to his family's Virginia home after spending years abroad proving his mettle so that he can marry Whitney Sheridan, the girl of his dreams. But the blonde and beautiful Whitney is convinced that love is a game, and that Cullen needs to jump through a few more hoops before she will deign to accept his proposal. Frustrated, Cullen turns to Samantha Lark, who has been his best pal for years. Sam devises the Great Plot: Cullen and she will pretend to be romantically involved, causing the jealous Whitney to finally capitulate. But of course the Great Plot leads to complications as buddies Cullen and Sam gradually realize that their play-acting isn't all fictional.

Part of my problem with this novel was the plot, which lacked originality. I don't like plots based on games, and the Great Plot was one big annoying deception. I also missed the element of suspense that was present in the earlier novels and could not generate much interest in the horse breeding and racing information that was so central to the plot.

Then there was the hero. Cullen, to me, was a clueless dolt who should have thrown over the vain and selfish Whitney right from the start and recognized the fact that Samantha, with whom he could share every thought and feeling, was his perfect match. To be fair, Martin does create a scenario in which Cullen feels he must pursue Whitney to make up for past mistakes, but it still left the man hard to like.

Samantha was more engaging. I appreciated the fact that she is portrayed without any apology as a woman who has had, and enjoyed, previous lovers. She's a standard spunky, resourceful Martin heroine who has to cope with an impending horse show that will financially make or break the Lark fortune based on her unusual horse breeding ideas.

Martin's previous novels featured heroines who were somewhat out of the mainstream and heroes who were smart enough to recognize their potential despite forces that kept them apart. In The Long Shot both Cullen and Samantha are from well-established Virginia equestrian blue-blood families, and the only factors keeping the two apart are Cullen's blindness and Samantha's unfathomable loyalty to Whitney. The dynamics just aren't as enjoyable. Another Martin trademark, lively love scenes, are virtually absent in this book; the reader is treated to approximately three kisses all the way until page 306, far too long to wait for a single lovemaking scene. It's almost as if Martin has written a contemporary Regency novel.

I'm being critical of The Long Shot because I expected something wonderful and found something that, from most authors, would have been perfectly acceptable. Martin still manages to create a lively cast of supporting characters and some wonderfully clever dialogue. Her resolution of what to do with Whitney so that Sam and Cullen can be together without guilt is both priceless and surprising.

In sum, I think this is the weakest of Martin's three contemporary romances, but I'm not giving up on this talented author. I know she'll be back in fine form for her next effort.

--Susan Scribner

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