Come Near Me

Escapade

A Funny Thing Happened on
the Way to the Delivery Room

The Homecoming

Indiscreet

The Promise

The Untamed

 
Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You
by Kasey Michaels
(Zebra, $6.59, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-6522-1
****
What a hoot! I can’t tell you how many times I found myself laughing out loud as a read Kasey Michaels’ tale of a poor little rich girl who runs away from home to escape her stultifying life and her even more stultifying fiancé. Yet, there were also a couple of times when I was moved nearly to tears by the poignancy of the story. What more could any reader want?

I must admit that my first reaction to Shelby Taite of the Main Line Taites was not particularly positive. It’s hard to feel sorry for a beautiful woman with a $30 million trust fund and a handsome fiancé named Parker Westbrook III. How bad can a life of ease and benefit balls be?

That’s certainly Quinn Delaney’s first impression of the rich Miss Taite as he arrives one evening to do bodyguard duty for a Taite outing. Miss Taite doesn’t even look at him; her big brown eyes are basically dead. Quinn, a partner in a successful security firm, is only on duty as a favor to his partner who usually guards the Rich and Repulsive, but Grady has a hot date so Quinn is filling in.

When Grady’s hot date leaves him with a dislocated shoulder, Quinn finds his association with the Taites extended. It seems that Miss Shelby has bolted. Why she packed a mere five suitcases with her most ordinary clothes -- Donna Karan instead of Versace -- and had the chauffeur drop her off at the bus station. It turns out that her dear Uncle Arthur had been reminiscing about his brief but memorable escape from the chains of Taite-ness, when he really experienced life. Obviously, Shelby has gone out in search of “life.”

Fiancé Parker wants Quinn to find Shelby and drag her back to her proper place. But Uncle Alfred, brother Somerton, and his significant other Jeremy are more sympathetic to Shelby’s bid for freedom. They want Quinn to find Shelby and make sure that she’s all right, but they also want him to let her enjoy her experience.

Shelby has headed for East Wapaneken, Pennsylvania, a small town near Allentown. Her chauffeur has waxed poetical about its charm and its ordinariness. After a false start, Shelby is lucky enough to run into Brandy Wasilkowski. Brandy has a penchant for helping people, so she takes Shelby, who now calls herself Shelley Smith, home with her, pries out her secret, and helps her really experience “life.”

By the time Quinn arrives in East Wapaneken -- no slouch as a detective he -- Shelby/Shelley already has a temporary job as hostess in the town’s best, and only, restaurant, Tony’s. Posing as a writer, Quinn makes himself at home. He finds a room in the same building and, with Brandy’s considerable help (what better way to help Shelby experience life than by getting her involved with a tall, dark and handsome man), makes himself part of Shelby’s new life.

Much of the humor in the book centers on Shelby’s introduction to “real life.” The scene at the bowling alley is priceless. And her discovery of the joys of shopping for bargains at T.J. Maxx is delightful. Likewise, Michaels creates delightfully funny characters throughout, whether these are roguish Uncle Alfred or the denizens of Tony’s Restaurant. But, while Michaels peoples her story with humorous characters, she pokes fun at them gently and respectfully. We laugh with them, not at them.

Quinn soon discovers that Shelby might be Rich, but she’s far from Repulsive. He watches bemusedly as she embraces her new life and makes it work. And he soon realizes that this has ceased to be a “case,” but become something very personal.

If I started out less than positive about Shelby, I ended up liking her very, very much. Without the restrictions and the limitations that had ever shaped her life, she is free to become the real Shelby. And the real Shelby is a warm, friendly, competent woman with unsuspected talents. It’s fun watching Shelby discover herself.

It’s also fun watching Quinn fall for the new and real Shelby. He knows he asking for trouble. He knows that when she finds out who he really is and why he’s really in East Wapaneken, that there will be h**l to pay. But he can’t help himself. Also, it soon becomes clear that Shelby may actually be in some kind of danger, so he couldn’t leave even if he wanted to.

Shelby’s having fun. Quinn’s having fun. Shelby and Quinn are having lots of fun together. And, trust me, I had lots of fun too.

Kasey Michaels is a talented and versatile author. She can write serious family sagas like her three books based on Pennsylvania in the 18th century. She can write angst-filled Regency historicals like her other recent release. And she can write rollicking, laugh-out-loud humor. I’ve read her in all her incarnations, but I think I like her best funny. And she very, very funny in Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.

--Jean Mason


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