Stress & the City
by Stephanie Rowe
(Harl. Flipside, $4.50, G) ISBN 0-373-44187-8
Cassie Halloway is the most dysfunctional stress management expert I have ever read about and she is delightful. I don’t think I’d want her for my therapist, but for a romance heroine, she proves that there is a place for hilarity when facing a nervous breakdown, and that you can fall in love even when you think your life is a major mess. Stress & the City is definitely her story.

Cassie has just come home from her honeymoon, which she spent alone putting pins in voodoo dolls that looked like all the lovey-dovey honeymooners she saw. And she feels better for it…not that she ever wished anyone any harm. Cassie went on said honeymoon alone, after finding her fiancé enjoying the pleasures of someone else the night before their wedding. She is back and ready to de-stress her next client. Her first night back, she is at a cocktail party and meets a nice looking man who seems to set her nerve endings on fire. While talking to him, the dumped fiancé makes an appearance. To show him he means nothing, Cassie lays a kiss on this nice man, and sparks fly. Of course, no harm, no foul…and they go off on their merry way, each shaken to their toes.

The nice man is none other than Malcolm Tyler Parker, Cassie’s new client, whom she has only met through email. She arrives at his house unannounced (one of her tricks to really find out what is causing the stress) and is flabbergasted to find Ty, the man from the kiss. Ty is new to town, and was referred to Cassie by his fiancée, a lady he has known for years. Fiancée Alexis is a family friend whose parents died suddenly, leaving her all alone. Ty, the ever protective, super nice guy that he is, swears he will always take care of her and they agree to marry. Not for love, you understand, but for security. Ty thinks of Alexis like a sister…no wonder he is feeling stress as the wedding approaches after a two-year engagement where they live in different towns and have barely seen each other.

Cassie sets out to complete her mission and maintain her professionalism, even though Ty rejects her…no, he rejects her therapy attempts. Her attempts to convince him otherwise are funny and silly and only work because Cassie is so neurotic and so sure she is only doing this for him. She is a piece of work…envision all the zany heroines with all the uncertainties and yet all the smarts and you have Cassie rolled into one. An author less talented could never have pulled this off and written such a rewarding character. Cassie goes from concern for her heart to convincing herself she is falling for Ty to certainty she can’t have him because he is engaged to someone else and loving him all the more for it. Then she hits some major depressions which only chocolate and pity parties can cure only to bounce back because she just has to finish the job she started with Ty. She is a Kook with a capital K, yet is sensitive and spontaneous and intelligent and charming.

Ty is her idea of a hero, and frankly, he is a really nice guy. He thinks he is doing Alexis a favor, so he won’t back down. He is a workaholic in the financial world while dreaming of owning a pizza parlor and making pies his whole life. Of course, he gave up this dream for Alexis, who he is certain needs security. He is not appreciative of Cassie for pointing out how he should pursue his dream. He is appreciative of her brain and her figure and how she responds to him. But he is holding true to his vow and this endears him to Cassie (and the reader) all the more.

The antics these two go through are fun and engaging. They ice skate, they snuggle, they avoid each other, they are drawn to each other and they parry back and forth. The scene when Ty decides to introduce Cassie to his younger brother Zach is absolutely comical.

Since this is a romance, there is a happy ending, but it is not reached easily and Cassie stays true to form throughout. Her best friend Leo is a perfect counter to her near-insanity. Ty is a great hero for Cassie. His almost-serious look at life adds to the perception that Cassie is slightly wacky, but he has just enough class and sense of humor to appreciate her lust for living.

Rowe has written a charming and witty romantic comedy. Stress & the City will provide a much needed sense of laughter and enjoyment for all.

--Shirley Lyons

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