Drive Me Wild

Dear Cupid by Julie Ortolon
(St. Martins, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-312-97871-5
Okay, call me a curmudgeon, but I'm not a big fan of hyperbole in romance. And when, on page five of Dear Cupid, the hero first lays eyes on the heroine and mentally describes her as "the most enchanting woman he'd ever seen", my reaction was "Bleah". Maybe if he'd been living in a cave or an Army outpost somewhere in the back of beyond, but Michael Cameron is a film animator who has spent considerable time in Hollywood, where babes are a dime a dozen. And it's just hard for me to imagine his instant, tongue-lolling, hot-flash attraction to the slightly zaftig redhead with the breathy flirtation act.

Kate Bradshaw writes a Dear Cupid column for an online magazine, but since her divorce, she's coming across as way too bitter and down on men for the editor's taste. The verdict: lighten up or get fired. Kate decides that what she needs is a little romance in her life. A little flirtation. Then she'll get back her knack for lighthearted love advice. Her choice of victim? A stranger in an airport, who turns out to be quite sexy under his rumpled exterior.

Kate accidentally drops a friend's business card as she turns to board her plane, and Michael retrieves it. Now that they are both headed to Austin, and he has a way to try and contact her through her friend Linda's business, Wife for Hire. Linda is not above a little matchmaking. Kate confides that she's short on cash, Linda has an opening and before Kate knows it, she's helping Michael Cameron clean up his act and ostensibly find a wife.

Kate, divorced with a seven-year-old son, isn't interested in making another marital mistake. Michael, of course, wants to convince Kate that she's the perfect woman for him. When he tries to prove his interest by animating her website, he sets in motion a chain of events that will leave Kate unemployed. Now Michael has much to fix.

Michael, with his good-natured slob ways and bumbling attempts to show Kate his affection, really stole the show in this book. He's sort of a handsome geek, honest and caring and sexy in an understated way, the perfect husband material. One can't help but root for him.

But oh, did he have to pick a female like Kate? As annoying as Michael is endearing, Kate grates right from the Betty Boop beginning where she all but pants at Michael in the airport. Her ex-husband is a one-dimensional slimeball, making Kate seem like an idiot for hooking up with him in the first place. She regrets the loss of her upper-middle-class lifestyle, with "the beautiful house, the designer clothes, and her spiffy red Miata". Even more, she laments that she can't give her son "the kind of life he deserved". Why she wants to turn little Dylan into a Prince of Privilege isn't really explained, other than he's asthmatic, seven years old, and can't yet tie his shoes.

And in a twist on the usual, here it's the heroine who has decided marriage is not for her since she's lived through a bad one. Since Mike is nothing but good to Kate, and her ex is an all-around ass, readers may get the impression Kate is a bit on the thick side.

The second half of the book is a bit lighter, as Michael makes an effort to introduce Kate and Dylan to his world. It wasn't really enough to offset the first half, though. And I couldn't help but feel at the end that Kate hooked up with Michael partly because he lived in a great house, much like the one she lived in before her divorce.

Dear Cupid is an uneven read that didn't exactly shoot an arrow through my heart. Maybe you'll have better luck than I did.

--Cathy Sova

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