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Older, Wiser . . . Pregnant
by Marilyn Pappano
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1200, $4.25, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-24200-X
**
Believe me if the principal female character in Older, Wiser . . Pregnant were noticeably pregnant, as she appears on the front cover, and if her male counterpart were aware of her pregnancy before the final fifth of the book, there would be no story. As it is, if I recommend reading Marilyn Pappano's new Silhouette Special Edition title, there will be more than one "older, wiser" person out there demanding "Where's the beef?"

Pappano's storyline is a twist on the typical bad boy leaves town, returns years later much reformed and finds his first true love ready, willing and able to take him back. After years of making her family's life a living hell, Laurel Cameron suddenly left town five years ago on the back of Buddy Jenkins' Harley, taking only a bag of loot stolen by Buddy from her family's inn. On the run, Laurel spends five years doing various odd jobs around the country, despising Buddy, who has no redeeming qualities, but staying in a loveless, abusive relationship with him through thick and thin, and making no attempt to let her family know whether she is dead or alive.

Then, unexpectedly pregnant with Buddy's unwanted child, Laurel severs all ties with him, recognizes she cannot raise the child on her own, and returns home seeking forgiveness. Within two weeks she has a job managing the landscaping for the family business and reclaims her old love, Beau. For the last five years Beau thought he hated Laurel but predictably has been unsuccessful establishing a relationship with another woman. He realizes he loves her and blames earlier behavior on his possessiveness, caused by his need for love.

Beau Walker is the son of an abusive, alcoholic father whose mother disappeared years before she could make an impact on his life. The Camerons and most of the town consider him and his father trash. Laurel's parents view her teenage attachment to him as just one more aspect of her rebellion. She does seem to have exhibited a pattern of using men to affect her family's feelings about her. The night before her disappearance, she had broken a date with Beau and gone out with another young man, more socially acceptable to her family. This wunderkind and a few of his friends spent the hours after his date with Laurel ambushing and beating Beau. Needless to say, Beau's last words to Laurel were very nasty but memorable.

Older, Wiser...Pregnant doesn't have much of a plot and no real character development, if you leave aside the wonderful person Beau Walker has become during the five years of Laurel's absence. The man even visits his senile father at a local rest home once a week. There is some conflict, but in all instances it seems blown out of proportion. A trumped up bit of tension between Laurel and her younger sister, Meg, whose wedding is just two weeks away, disappears in an unbelievable reconciliation scene prompted by all the bride's attendants deserting her, leaving only Laurel to button her wedding dress.

The conflict between Laurel and Beau, which should drive the story, never gets off the ground. Laurel must concentrate on becoming a super mother. Beau not only looks at his own father and doubts his ability to be a parent but knows nothing of the baby fathered by the much despised Buddy. "Wiser" woman that she is, Laurel jumps into bed with Beau a few times before telling anyone her news, even though she considers that unfair to him. She rationalizes she must tell her mother first, before Beau, and postpones that newsbreak in deference to her sister, egotistically assuming her parents' glowing over becoming grandparents will deprive her sister of the wedding-day spotlight. Oh please!

Presumably Laurel's character development will occur during her wife-and-mother phase. Beau is a thoughtful, sensitive male; I cannot blame Laurel for using her considerable wiles to lure him back.

The editor's notes at the beginning of the book proclaim this is Marilyn Pappano's first Special Edition title. Perhaps she is experimenting with her writing, veering away from darker, more suspenseful, romantic fiction. Whatever the reason, this excellent author has produced a less than excellent book; a romance that fizzles rather than sizzles.

--Sue Klock


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