Wanted: Daddy

Daddy by Christmas by Mollie Molay
(Harl. Amer. #799, $3.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-16799-7
Widowed mother Laura Edwards and divorced dad Tom Aldrich meet for the first time at the school performance of The Nutcracker, to enjoy their five-year-old daughters as Sugar Plum fairies. As both girls perform the dance, people in the audience are commenting on how sweet it is to have twins performing. But Laura and Tom have never met. Is it more than coincidence that their daughters are identical?

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to discover the connection. Laura and her husband, before his death, had gone to the Eden Fertility Clinic. Tom and his ex-wife had also benefitted from the clinic's fertility techniques. Now the Eden Clinic is under investigation for unethical and fraudulent use of donor eggs and sperm. Perhaps it is more than coincidence that the five-year-olds, Carly and Beth, are so similar.

Tom, an INS agent, has had sole custody of his daughter Beth for more than two years, ever since his ex-wife, a career-driven witch, walked out. Is it also a coincidence when she turns up, stating that she regrets her decision to abandon her daughter? Does she really want joint custody, or does she smell a lawsuit in the making, one which may net her millions of dollars?

Laura, who's always wondered why her daughter Carly looked nothing like her or Carly's father, now begins to fear that perhaps Carly isn't her biological daughter. When Tom suggests that they marry in order to protect both of the girls and to insure that they have a better legal chance of maintaining custody, Laura realizes that together they may indeed have better odds. So she agrees, in an insipid, wishy-washy, should-I-or-shouldn't-I acceptance.

Tom and the girls are sympathetic characters. Tom realizes that Laura hasn't had a chance to know him and doesn't really trust him, but he promises himself that he'll be a good husband and father. He's been attracted to her from their initial meeting, but senses that Laura might not share his feelings. The girls, who've bonded from their first meeting, are sweet, unaffected and delighted that they will now be a family.

Laura isn't a very sympathetic character. She's the type I'd envision sitting around wringing her hands while the situation deteriorates. She accepts Tom's proposal, and immediately after the ceremony, begins to doubt his motives. Whoa, wouldn't an intelligent mother determine all the possible scenarios beforehand? Why have doubts when it's too late? I expected more of a pragmatic approach here, not a indecisive, vacillating character who engenders irritation more than sympathy.

The love story is not what kept me reading. Laura keeps putting Tom off, so the sexual chemistry is kept at a low flame, barely simmering. I wanted to know about the girls' parentage. Was Tom's ex-wife the mother whose eggs had been illegally used? Was Laura's husband the father? Instead of answers, all I got was a big letdown.

What keep this a three heart rating rather than lower was Tom and the five-year-olds. Their chemistry is sparkling. Both girls are adorable, and Tom is a Romance Hero Deluxe. The plot, while convoluted and not terribly realistic, moved at a good pace, which made it was an easy book to finish. If Tom and the girls hadn't been so well-described, so strong and so likable, this book's rating would have gone down.

I'm hoping that there are better entries for the holiday season.

--Linda Mowery

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