Bedroom Eyes

Pillow Talk

As Nikki Holiday

Heaven Comes Home

Heaven Knows Best

Perfect Match by Hailey North
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-81306-8
It's not often one finds an opening as quirky as that found in Perfect Match. Lauren Stevens finds herself on the streets of New Orleans' French Quarter, nearly broke and with a parrot perched on her shoulder. Buster belonged to Lauren's late employer, and when the old woman died, Lauren rescued him. Now here she is, hawking photos to tourists who want their picture taken with a bird that screams "Buy low! Sell high!"

Lauren, at 29, is a perpetual graduate student who can't bring herself to finish her dissertation in art history. She's been supported by her father up until now, but dear old dad is tired of bailing her out and has promised no more help. She left her art supplies behind in her rush to rescue Buster from being sent to the animal shelter. (The possibility that she just could go and claim him, or that the animal people would be happy to have her take the bird off their hands, doesn't seem to have registered.) When a handsome man in a suit blunders into her, it seems like an omen of impending disaster, and she flees.

Oliver Gotho takes one look at Lauren's auburn-haired beauty and is instantly smitten. But she disappears before he can find out who she is. Oliver, a banker, is trying to liven up his staid existence. His older brother, Alistair, is the black sheep of the family, having turned his back on the family banking business to open a magick shop (he appeared in Ms. North's previous book, Bedroom Eyes). Lauren and Alistair are destined to meet, and soon Alistair discovers she's the woman his stuffy brother is determined to find. But, having met her, will Alistair let her go?

Oliver, in the meantime, is fighting an attraction to Barbara, a pretty bank auditor. Lauren, the perfect beauty, is much more what he wants, isn't she? Or is she?

What follows is a tale of four people at cross-purposes. Alistair wants Lauren, but so does his brother, or so he thinks. Lauren in drawn to Alistair and really isn't all that interested in Oliver, but he's respectable and a gentleman, so maybe she ought to try and like him more. Oliver wants Lauren, or at least the ideal of Lauren, but is really attracted to Barbara. Barbara is also tired of her boring existence. Alistair is just the kind of dangerous bad boy that could put some spark in her life. So why is she thinking of Oliver?

I suspect that readers' enjoyment of this story will be in direct proportion to their tolerance for ditzy heroines. Lauren qualifies with a capital D. The whole premise of her failed graduate studies and being unable to level with her father struck me as incredibly immature given her age, or maybe she was intended to come across as the product of a silver-spoon upbringing that this reader couldn't relate to. Whatever. In any case, it didn't work. Twenty-nine and living off Dad's largesse? Runs out of a house carrying a parrot and leaves all of her things behind? This woman needed a keeper.

Which is where Alistair comes in. He's a delightful kind of guy, one who wears Birkenstock sandals with his suits and keeps his silvery hair pulled back in a ponytail. He also has a habit of picking up strays, such as Lauren, and rescuing them. It's a habit he's trying to break. But when he meets Lauren, being arrested by two of New Orleans' finest for not carrying a license to perform, he just can't stop himself. Soon she's ensconced in a small apartment at the back of his house, and they are falling for one another.

But a to-die-for hero can't carry the story alone, and Lauren fell flat. It's not a good sign when a reader has to fight the urge to skip sections of the book featuring the heroine and get on to sections featuring the secondary romance. And this one was a charmer. Oliver and Barbara are delightfully stubborn people who refuse to see what's in front of their eyes until it's almost too late.

Got a tolerance for flaky heroines? Perfect Match will probably delight you. And even if they're not your cup of tea, you may find enough entertainment in the rest of the cast to make this a worthwhile read.

--Cathy Sova

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