Still Mr. & Mrs.
by Mary McBride
(Warner, $5.99, G) ISBN 0-446-61128-X
****
Most of this book was a treat - fast paced, complex enough to be satisfying, and with a nice balance of humor and poignancy. If the heroine wore a little thin, a spectacularly adorable hero made up for it.

When the Secret Service intercepts death threats against the President’s mother, they need to get creative. Margaret Riordan (also known as “Crazy Daisy”) doesn’t like agents and uses her BB gun to take potshots at those routinely stationed outside her home.

Hoping to sneak one by her, the Secret Service arranges for her married live-in housekeeper and gardener to go on an extended vacation and replaces them with agents. The couple must be married, of course, so as not to offend Crazy Daisy’s delicate sensibilities and “to avoid any possible hint of scandal.”

Bobby and Angela Holland, both agents, fill the bill. Well, technically, anyway. They’ve been separated for a year. Never the most communicative of men, Bobby built an emotional wall around himself when his beloved younger brother - also an agent - died in the line of duty. After a year of hoping Bobby would open up, Angela left him and went to Los Angeles where she’s since become involved with a hunky, ultra-sensitive movie star.

Bobby was on his way to L.A. to try to win Angela back when he was dragged into this job, so he’s not exactly heartbroken when his partner on the Crazy Daisy detail turns out to be Angela. Angela, who was finally starting to feel as though she was moving on with her life, is considerably less thrilled.

In fact, when she first sees Bobby she reaches for her cell phone and several people, Bobby included, wonder if she’s going for her gun.

This book has some marvelous strengths - particularly the fact that the author works hard not to make anybody the villain. Bobby, who is passionately in love with his wife, is by turns funny and heart breaking in his inarticulate longing to win Angela back. As readers, we have an enormous advantage over his poor wife in that we can read his mind, and he’s one of the most attractive, charming heroes I’ve read in quite some time.

I was sympathetic to Angela’s fear that proximity to Bobby would tempt her back into a situation she found emotionally untenable. But Angela is no martyr. Although she obviously doesn’t realize it, she’s as much a part of the problem as her husband. There are times when he’s trying to talk to her and she just isn’t listening - even times when she cuts him off. In the beginning, I thought this created a good balance, but by the end of the book Angela was grating a bit on me.

She’s very wrapped up in what she wants; wondering whether or not she’s giving Bobby what he needs seldom occurs to her. Without making any effort to help him, she just expects him to change. She may have tried when they were still together, but I didn’t see her making any effort at all in the book so what, at first, rang of honest pain started to sound suspiciously like whining. Angela also hurts him - deliberately - just to see if she can get a reaction and, given how much I’m liking Bobby, this really ticks me off.

The Crazy Daisy plot adds the right amount of energy and interest, and Crazy Daisy herself is a surprisingly complex and engaging character. Like Bobby, she hid a lonely, loving heart under a bulletproof hide and their connection was one of the things that brought the book to life.

I’m sure male and female agents work together all the time without benefit of clergy and without causing any “scandals.” (Please. This is the 21st century, not the Regency.) But I can’t help being glad that Ms. McBride brought these two together, whatever the circumstances, because this was a story I enjoyed. I’m looking forward to her next one and crossing my fingers for an equally wonderful hero - and for a heroine just a little worthier of him.

--Judi McKee


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