The Wedding Bargain
by Lee McKenzie
(Harl. Am. #1340, $4.99, PG) ISBN 978-0373-75344-4
****
McKenzie has written a story that is pretty familiar but she resists the urge to be predictable, making this tale a better than average category romance. You won’t be disappointed with The Wedding Bargain.

Michael Morgan is the head of a family that has roots back hundreds of years in the wine making industry. He runs his family’s winery while also pushing the business out into the city with wine bars. He often visits his mother, who has the added responsibility of his 22 year old brother Ben, a man with a cognitive disability. Ben needs assistance and while Michael loves him, he and his sisters are happy their mother can still take care of him. His sister Lexi is an architect and she helps him design his new places, which his sister Ginny runs the advertising side of the business. She is currently concentrating on starting her own family with her new husband.

Michael has decided to enter the market in San Francisco in the South of Market district, an area that is the current revitalization project for the city. He already has a bar on the Wharf and in Nob Hill. His vision of a new place in SoMa has his attention. He is intrigued when he meets a young lady at a wedding who tells him she currently owns a bar, the Sour Whiskey, in that area. He thinks maybe they could have both a business relationship and a personal one.

Jess Bennett hates wearing dresses that have no straps, but one sacrifices for one’s best friend when they are getting married and you are the maid of honor. She is constantly tugging on the dress and is embarrassed to note that a handsome man is watching her and knows her dilemma. When said man asks her to dance, she does so out of the sense of his daring her. She discovers that he knows wine, something she is not well versed in. Her customers are more the beer and whiskey folks. She finds herself telling him about her bar, which she inherited from her grandfather, the original owner. And he asks her out on a date but to get her agreement, he couches it as a business dinner. He wants to talk to her about selling her bar.

The set up is so familiar. Man has money and wants something. Woman has the property but not the money and is beautiful. Man manipulates so he can convince the woman to sell. But she wiggles her way into his heart with her story. He rethinks and backs off, but not before she finds out about his manipulation, which puts her back up and almost ruins their relationship.

What makes this stand above the crowd are the characters. Michael is a good guy. He is slow on the uptake as to women, but his heart was never in a bad place and he admitted his mistake immediately. Jess is a warrior. She was raised by a woman who was always looking for a new man and she is determined not to be that kind of woman. She is vulnerable yet strong. Michael admires that about her and responds accordingly, despite his protective nature. These two are well matched and mature enough to figure it out. The secondary characters are also familiar but well written. Jess’ friend Eric, who happens to be gay, helps her run the bar. Her other friends know just the right things to do or say to be supportive. Lexi is knee deep in the deception but has the understanding to warn her brother at the beginning then comes through for him in the end when he needs her. It appears that her story may be next and she promises to be a delightful heroine.

The Wedding Bargain is a pure romance with some fun and engaging scenes. While recognizable on the one hand, it was refreshingly new in so many ways.

--Shirley Lyons


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