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Sweeter Than Wine

 
A Kiss to Dream On
by Stephanie Mittman
(Dell, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-440-22554-X
***
Am I the only one who talks back to the characters in romances? I can't possibly be the only one. No matter. I admit to sometimes getting so carried away that I have very one-sided conversations with the people inhabiting the fictional world of the moment. Most conversation may be nothing more than the exasperated, "Oh you have got to be kidding," or the breathless, "Ah. Finally." One element of Stephanie Mittman's latest had me in full-blown dialogue. It was the heroine's relentless and misplaced jealousy. "You are starting to piss me off," I told Arliss.

You see, the pregnant Arliss Mallard was jilted at the altar by her longtime, selfish idiot of a boyfriend with the oh so apropos name of Slick. This guy is so self-centered that he makes Leona Helmsley look like Robin Hood. Anyway, Slick heads for the gambling tables of Butte and Helena and sends his faithful friend, Gideon Forbes, to break the news to Arliss.

Gideon is the deputy in the mining town of Granite, and what he was doing paling around with a creep like Gideon is never explained, unless it's to be near Arliss, whom he loves from afar. Yep. Gideon pops the question in order to save Arliss from the shame of being an unwed mother. "You are such a sweetie," I said to Gideon.

Arliss accepts and the two get hitched in front of the stunned population of Granite. She moves into the Forbes homestead and takes her place as woman of the house, displacing Gideon's over-protective and acid-tongued sister, Berris. Berris knows that Gideon has long carried a torch for Arliss, but she is extremely suspicious of the hasty marriage and excuse that Gideon and Arliss had fallen in love behind Slick's back.

There is also the problem of the marriage bed. Although Gideon is ripe to jump in saddle and "cleave" unto Arliss, he gives his new bride time to adjust. But as the weeks stretch on he begins to wonder if their marriage will ever be more than just "in name only."

Arliss is a confused young thing who has an amazing knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. No matter that Slick's lovey-dovey words are starting to fade in the face of Gideon's quiet compassion. She seems to bring up her ex-boyfriend at the most inopportune times, leading to a continuous round of misinterpretations, misquotes, mistakes, and misunderstandings all based on miscommunication. I wanted to pull these two together, sit them down and say, "Look, you scared rabbits, if somebody doesn't start talking this book will never end."

Arliss, despite her rescue at the altar, is none to quick to trust people. I really gave her a talking to after she got mad at Gideon. "You're a hypocrite," I said. "You're carrying another man's baby and you have the nerve to get mad at your husband because he won't tell you everything you want to know. You're a brat."

Well, I didn't say that my conversations were intelligent.

Stephanie Mittman has a clever, down home style of writing that is quite engaging, but I found myself getting very, very antsy as the story dragged to its inevitable conclusion. Arliss' obtuse behavior in the face of her husband's adoration could be chalked up to immaturity (the character's age, though never given, must be somewhere around 18) but the book's continual "near-misses" began to wear thin. The couple doesn't even share their first kiss until somewhere past the half-way point.

And though I did find A Kiss to Dream On to be a gentle, homespun romance, it lacks the effervescence needed to truly set it apart and put it on par with the works of authors like LaVryle Spencer or Pam Morsi. The author does create a number of interesting characters, not the least of whom is the town's resident crazy, Lester, whose sad mental state sets in motion a tragedy that ultimately changes the lives of both Arliss and Gideon. Gideon…I admit to having a soft spot for him. Like his sister Berris, who goes to great lengths to keep her 6-foot plus brother from harm, I felt quite protective of this gentle giant. I could just see his stoop-shouldered frame shuffling through the pages in search of a happy ending.

And since this is a romance, he does get what he wants…eventually. It just seemed to take the poor guy so long to get there. I felt tired for him. I said, "Gideon, you need a good rest. Go to bed. Don't worry, Arliss will still be here in the morning."

And what do you know…she was.

--Ann McGuire


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