Duets #95 by Molly O’Keefe
(Harlequin, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-44161-4
***
Cooking Up Trouble and Kiss the Cook are the stories of Mark and Billy Cook, brothers to Ethan, who was featured in O’Keefe’s Too Many Cooks. These two brothers are matched up with two stubborn ladies to match their hard-headed natures. Although entertaining, it is this trend of obstinacy that left me slightly disenchanted.

Mark and Alyssa have known each other forever. Alyssa has been like a sister, practically being adopted by the Cooks when just a teen. She has always loved Mark while Mark has been immune to her charms. Alyssa has returned from college with a degree in veterinary medicine that she hopes to practice in this wild state of Montana. But she returns as she always has, serving as the cook for the Cook’s ranch.

Not that Alyssa has changed, but suddenly, Mark sees her in a different light. This is primarily due to the jealousy raging through him as Alyssa is courted by a movie star. You see, movie heartthrob Dirk Mason is spending time on the Cook spread, learning to be a modern day cowboy for an upcoming movie. Mark resents his presence, but is forced to comply due to the contract the family has signed.

As Mark discovers his feelings, Alyssa realizes she loves Mark, but thinks he will never come around. She is determined to find another job and leave at the end of the summer. True love prevails. Sadly, it is only after many scenarios where they lust and then blow the opportunity to tell each other how they feel. Once or twice of this makes for a little suspense but time after time got tiresome and lessened my enjoyment.

In Kiss the Cook, Billy and his old flame Kate really show us the meaning of the words pigheadedness and obstinacy. When Kate was nineteen and Billy just sixteen, Kate stormed into town and into Billy’s heart. After a summer full of loving, she up and left, heading for California to make her fortune. She sold one screenplay and then went bust. Now 14 years later, she is back in this little town in Montana, jobless and pregnant. Billy rescues her in a snowstorm and helps deliver her baby (whom she renames three times before settling on Grace).

Since their first romance, Billy has sworn off attachments and been the county Casanova. He has left a trail of broken hearts. However, as he celebrates his thirtieth birthday, he feels a little lonely and longs for a family of his own. Kate is still attracted to Billy, but is bound and determined to make it on her own. The father of her baby dumped her and duped her, taking all her money in the guise of an investment. She is sure she has no taste in men.

The two spend their time lusting after each other and denying their feelings. I liked the banter when they were together and I enjoyed the initial moments of rediscovering their love for the other. As in the first story, this pretense just went on way too long for pure entertainment.

Cooking Up Trouble was full of the family and this added to the fun of the story. Kiss the Cook was wrapped entirely around the two main characters and I noticed that lack.

Duets have a tradition of light-hearted romantic comedies. Duets 95 has the comedy, and the romance…it is just a shade shy of light-hearted.

-- Shirley Lyons


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