Diagnosis: Daddy by Jule McBride
(Harlequin American Romance #725, $3.99, PG-13)
ISBN: 0-373-16725-3
****
Francesca Maria Angelina Sophia Carmella Luccetti wanted to adopt a baby. The odds were not in her favor. However, the Big Apple Adoption Agency's compassionate intake coordinator didn't have the heart to tell her no.

"She had no money. No college degree. No skills. No husband. She didn't even have a boyfriend. And she was living in a miserable rundown excuse for an apartment . . . Even more unpromising, Francesca Luccetti had just had a heart transplant a little over a year ago."

The adoption agency dispatched its hired gun, head pediatrician Winston "Doc" Holliday to shoot down her dreams of motherhood. Doc had a reputation for knowing "how to let the hard-luck cases down easy." But the shootout at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone had to be easier than facing down Frankie Luccetti in her Little Italy apartment.

Since his fiancée was tragically killed in an automobile accident on what was to have been their wedding day, Doc has been a little gun-shy around women. There is an almost ethereal connection between Doc and Frankie that both frightens and transfixes him. He can reject Frankie's application for adoption, but he can't totally reject her.

Doc succumbs to an unprofessional moment of passion. He and the virginal Frankie become lovers. Doc displays his best bedside manner during the one-night (actually, one-afternoon and early the next morning) stand. He panics, leaves a "Dear Frankie" letter and disappears from her life. But she haunts his thoughts for nearly a year.

One afternoon, a cabdriver needs help with a very pregnant passenger who has gone into labor. Doc is galvanized into action, delivers the baby and then is shocked to see that the passenger is Frankie Luccetti. He has probably delivered his own baby!

For her part, Frankie is unimpressed. She makes it clear to Doc that she and her baby want nothing from him. He will not be given the opportunity to reject her again. In a real display of bravado, she ignores Doc and tells the cabdriver: "Excuse me. But I was occupied and did not hear. How much did you say that fare was?"

The Luccetti clan descends upon the hospital after the birth of the first grandchild. The family is embarrassed - not because of Frankie's unmarried state - but because of the low turnout at the hospital. The baby was early so only 17 relatives could make it and the rest are en route from Italy. Doc has his work cut out for him.

Diagnosis: Daddy is the third in Harlequin American Romance's "Big Apple Babies" series. Seven mysterious matchmaking millionaires secretly started the "Big Apple Babies" adoption agency in Manhattan. Others in the series are Mission: Motherhood and Verdict: Parenthood.

Jule McBride has created a lighthearted love story about life, love and "taking time to smell the flowers." Doc and Frankie's relationship moves along at a realistic pace. The narrative is extremely visual and dialog is tight and often very funny. Diagnosis: Daddy includes an atypical secondary romance. Doc, who was raised by an aunt after his parents died, spends time courting the entire Luccetti family while pleading his case to Frankie.

There are more than a few surprises I really wish I could share! There are also a few loose ends I expect will be tied up in the fourth installment, A.K.A.: Marriage, due to be released this summer.

Diagnosis: Daddy is fun, like lemon Italian ice on a hot day. It's cool, sweet, a bit tart, but refreshing.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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