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Sealed With a Kiss by Pamela Morsi
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-79638-4
****
I like to equate Pam Morsi's books with comfortable old chairs – they're well worn and soft in all the right places. And while they might not be the most attractive, they're the ones the kids and cats fight over. I'm happy to say that the latest Morsi fits that oh so comfy mold I've come to love.

It's nearing the turn of the century when Gidry Chavis returns to the small Texas town that bears his family name. Having ridden out on a rail eight years before, Gidry has returned to Chavistown to make amends with his dying father. Unfortunately, the first person he meets up with is Prudence Belmont, the woman he jilted before setting off to explore the wild west. Prudence is now the president of the town's illustrious garden society – and a spinster. Prudence and Gidry grew up together, and she never left any doubt as to her feelings for him. Wearing her heart on her sleeve all those years ago makes it particularly awkward to face Gidry now that he's returned, repentant for his youthful mistakes, and anxious to reestablish a friendship.

Gidry is quickly welcomed back by his father, and the town. Though none of the local gossips have forgotten how he dumped Prudence with only a curt note, all are willing to admit he's grown into a fine man. He even puts little Sharpy Kilroy, the town ragamuffin, to work at the cotton gin. It's this same little boy who is secretly living in a garden shed behind Prudence's house. Every night Prudence visits Sharpy, making sure he's washed and fed, but is unwilling to risk the merciless tongues of the town by actually inviting the poor orphan into her home. On his nightly visits with his father, from a vantage point overlooking the Belmont yard, Gidry sees Prudence's furtive comings and goings. When he comes to the shocking conclusion that she's meeting a man in her shed, Gidry begins to experience more carnal notions about his one-time fiancée than he ever thought possible.

Featuring one of the liveliest "losing it" scenes that I've read in quite some time, Sealed with a Kiss benefits from Morsi's trademark down-home brand of humor and sentiment. The growing affection between Prudence and Gidry is nicely juxtaposed against the secret love between Gidry's father and Prudence's maiden Aunt Hen. And, as usual, Morsi paints a colorful picture of town life, complete with gossipy old biddies and cigar-smoking town elders.

As with most of Morsi's stories, the plot takes a backseat to the characters, who in this case, are victims of both pride and prejudice. Unwilling to risk the censure of the town that sustained her following Gidry's jilting, Prudence locks up the heart she once so proudly displayed for all to see. She won't even admit to caring for the wise-before-his-age Sharpy, let alone to carrying a torch for the man who caused her greatest humiliation.

And when everyone but Prudence welcomes Gidry back to town with open arms, he grows angry. He chalks his past behavior off to the callousness of youth and assumes that, as an apology, it will suffice. Prudence, however, thinks otherwise and puts the stunned Gidry in his place by refusing his advances…for a while. The two bob and weave around each other, masking their passion as anger until the town "thief" accidentally intervenes and puts them in their rightful places.

Sealed with a Kiss is alternately charming and passionate, funny and bittersweet. As she has proven time and time again, Pamela Morsi has an undeniable talent for bringing everyday people to life in all of their ordinary glory.

--Ann McGuire


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