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Be My Baby Tonight

Can't Take My Eyes Off You

<Come Near Me

Escapade

Indiscreet

Jessie's Expecting

Love to Love You Baby

The Sheikh's Secret Son

Someone to Love

Then Comes Marriage Too Good to Be True

Waiting For You

 
This Must Be Love
by Kasey Michaels
(Zebra, $6.99, G) ISBN 08217-7118-3
****
This would be a good book to take on a beach vacation this winter. It’s fun and entertaining, although you probably won’t lock yourself in the room with it while everyone else goes parasailing.

Jane Preston has always been a good girl, especially compared to her wild cousin Molly. Jane likes things stable and neat. She used an inheritance from her grandmother to buy a daycare/nursery school and she’s running it carefully and successfully.

Molly, on the other hand, only gets the income from her trust fund if she manages to stay employed for ten months out of each year - a considerable challenge. Right now, Molly is a secretary at a newspaper, but she just knows that they’ll promote her to actual reporter if she brings in the biggest “scoop” of the year - whether or not Senator Aubrey Harrison is going to run for President.

Molly knows that Harrison is attending “some sort of annual intellectual, invitation-only retreat for brainy types and their guests.” To get close to the senator, Molly has arranged with an escort service to attend the event as the companion - no hanky panky, of course - of a nerdy college professor named John Romanowski. Unfortunately, Molly’s discovered that a man she, uh, “knows” will be accompanying the senator. So she needs a substitute, someone to go in there for her, pry the senator’s secrets out of him and feed them to Molly. Right, cousin Jane?

By the most amazing coincidence, John Romanowski is not who he appears to be either and has his own score to settle with the potential presidential candidate. When Jane meets him she can also see that, in spite of his best efforts, he isn’t exactly nerdy either.

A light, enjoyable writing style and the characterizations of John and Jane are the great strengths of this book. The humor is content to be naturally flip and amusing rather than struggling to be laugh-out-loud funny. Molly’s slangy sophistication tries a bit too hard, especially in the beginning, but fortunately her role here is limited.

Jane and John, however, come across as very real and pleasantly multi-dimensional. Each has a plan, and each has lots to hide, but as the story unfolds they find themselves revealing more and more of the truth. Even better, rather than sticking blindly to an original plan even as it gradually becomes unworkable, they change and adapt to the circumstances and to their increased understanding of each other. (In some romance circles, this would be considered downright revolutionary.)

It’s fun watching Jane try to become more free-spirited - something clearly at odds with her compulsion to keep things organized and on track. Equally appealing is John’s tolerant and teasing attitude towards her. He seems to see the real her and, although he can’t help smiling at her foibles occasionally, he goes from thinking she’s cute to finding her irresistible. Now that’s nice character development for a hero. Jane’s humorous self-awareness is very engaging, as is her modesty. Rather than making her defensive, her certainty that she’ll never be John’s type liberates her into a degree of honesty that everybody finds refreshing.

In fact, for the most part I found the pace at which their relationship developed quite believable.

The story itself was sometimes less than convincing to me. First of all, the author plays fast and loose with the way things work in real life and there are too many coincidences for my taste. I know many readers don’t have a problem with this, particularly in a romantic comedy, but when I keep thinking “no way!” it interrupts my involvement with the story.

Ms. Michaels also pulled the rug out from under her own plot in a way that I found disappointing. Ultimately, the big setup was for nothing and the resolution arrives out of the blue. I was glad Jane and John ended up together, but in a plot-driven book I feel like the plot should ultimately go somewhere meaningful.

So, by all means, take this book on holiday. It likely won’t distract you from your tennis lesson, but it will be a pleasant diversion when you’re ready to sit by the pool with an umbrella drink.

-- Judi McKee


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