A Girl, a Guy, and a Lullaby

That Maddening Man by Debrah Morris
(Silh. Romance #1597, $3.99. PG) ISBN 0-373-19597-4
Jack Madden is a hero for all of us, and Ellin Bennett is a worthy heroine. These two make That Maddening Man a delightful tale of love at first sight that is well worth your time.

Jack is a hero in the small Arkansas town of Washington. He is a teacher, volunteer fireman, novelist, EMT, and general all-around good guy. I fell in love with him a little bit more each page. He is a member of a strong family, with parents who have been married forty years and a twin sister he adores. He believes that there is “the ONE” for him and he believes Ellin is it.

Ellin is a cynical, career newspaperwoman, divorcee and mother to her daughter. She has lived in big cities all her life, with little warmth and nurturing from her parents, who were also divorced. Her ex-husband wants nothing to do with his daughter and Ellin feels guilty about that. Lizzie, age 4, seems unconcerned. Lizzie is a good example of a child in a romance that adds to the story rather than one who detracts.

Ellin comes to Washington to care for her paternal grandmother, Ida Fay, who has fallen and broken her hip. While there, she is moonlighting as the editor of the local weekly, while the real editor is on an archaeological dig. This works out for everyone, as Ellin is between jobs.

She meets Jack on her way to see her grandmother at the nursing home where she has been recuperating. Jack’s truck has run out of gas on the side of the road. He is dressed as Santa Claus, on his way to the home to spread presents and cheer to the residents. Four-year-old Lizzie demands that Ellin stop to pick him up, and it is kismet. Well, it is for Jack.

This is a tale of a man realizing his love for the woman and the woman fighting her feelings. In Debrah Morris’ hands, this style is a success. Jack is charming and Ellin fights him all the way. Jack’s sister, Jana, and Ida Fay are delighted with this scenario and decide to help Jack. Small town Arkansas is viewed through the eyes of Ellin, as she comes to realize there is something special about knowing everyone and caring what happens in people’s lives.

The sexual tension between Jack and Ellin builds nicely, with adult interactions and control of their feelings. It was refreshing to see a couple who were thoroughly involved in their encounters, yet were able to think about consequences and put their long term needs in perspective with their short term lustful feelings. But I guarantee you will never look at a clothes washer the same way again.

The main shortfall to the story is the speed of the resolution, and it is only a minor distraction. Ellin fights to the end, and when she finally realizes her feelings and makes the right choice, it seems just a little too rushed compared to her thought processes in the rest of the novel.

Another distraction is Ellin’s use of some rather corny phrases that just did not fit into her character. She is a sophisticated city dweller, yet she uses such phrases as “holey moley” and “Jeez”. I cringed each time I read them.

That Maddening Man is fun, energetic and full of real life interactions between two realistic adults. Settle in and enjoy!

--Shirley Lyons

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