Make-Believe Matrimony
by Kathern Shaw
(Zebra Bouquet, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-6792-5
Did you ever find yourself reading a book that you really wanted to like, an entertaining book, but one with problems that became impossible to overlook? That's exactly how I feel about Make-Believe Matrimony. The more I read, the more the heroine irritated me, to the point where I couldn't enjoy this story. And that's too bad, because the hero is one of the best I've met in a long while.

Annie Brown is the envy of anybody who's ever bought a lottery ticket. Imagine winning fifty million big ones. While most of us see this as idyllic, Annie is discovering that there's a downside to being filthy rich. She can handle all the mail and phone calls soliciting charitable donations; her lawyer helps her with that. What she can't handle are all of the men who suddenly find her irresistible, the ones with dollar signs in their eyes. A few even have dollar signs below the belt.

The story opens with Annie gazing out her bathroom window, seeing a tuxedo-clad man hanging from a nearby tree. He's wearing a sign, written with red glitter, which says, "Marry Me." She's livid that her privacy is again being invaded and calls the police. Actually, I think anyone who uses glitter in a proposal should be jailed, too.

Detective Ryan Armstrong arrives to help and soon discovers that Annie is in over her head with would-be suitors. She's accosted at the movies, finds odd little gifts and even has a riot break out in the local restaurant as two behemoths fight over her favors. Here's what Ryan suggests, an idea that he thinks will solve Annie's problems. Men, he reasons, will leave Annie alone if they think she's married. His idea is that they pretend to be married, explaining to her that most men see a wedding ring as a ‘no trespassing' symbol. This should gain her some freedom.

So, faux matrimony is the plan of the day. Annie and Ryan fly to Lake Tahoe, have a pretend ceremony complete with local press, come back home and begin to cohabit. However, the odd little gifts continue. Apparently somebody isn't paying any attention to Annie's new marriage.

Two legal issues gnawed at me, so I did a bit of research. Annie is horrified to think that their marriage may be legal because of Texas' common-law statues. However, according to the law, Annie and Ryan aren't married because she wasn't agreeing to a real marriage. Secondly, when she thinks that he's after her money, shouldn’t she have had the savvy to know that property belonging to her before the marriage is hers? I've made this gripe before, but if I can find the correct information with minimal searching on the Internet, why can't others? These two incidents allow Annie to blow a gasket, but just made me shake my head at her stupidity.

A background issue that surfaces and looms large for most of the story is Annie's fear of being dependent on a man. After her father left them, she witnessed her mother again and again being dependent on any nearby male. To make it worse, Annie herself was in a stifling relationship with a man who controlled all aspects of her life, then left her flat. So she's afraid of giving a man any power, and I do mean ANY!

This fear is what ruins the book for me. For most of the book Annie is afraid of leaning on Ryan for anything, so much so that she becomes a harpy. When she finds out that he's talked to her financial advisor, she goes ballistic. And when she thinks that their marriage may be real, she goes nuclear. This woman gives histrionics a whole new meaning. While some may see her as feisty, I found her rude, hateful and frequently obnoxious. Her actions and reactions are disproportionate to what's happened. And when you lose sympathy for the heroine, a lot of the enjoyment for a book is gone.

If Annie, who's essentially running amok, hadn't been balanced with a hero who's truly remarkable, then my rating would have been lower. Ryan is the shining light in this book. This guy is nice, considerate and for the most part understands and accepts Annie's hangups. He's responsible for any humor that's in the book.

When Annie and Ryan are in Lake Tahoe on their ‘honeymoon', they find themselves in a suite with the obligatory "heart-shaped bed draped in red satin." Ryan diffuses the tension by asking Annie, "You want the right ventricle or the left?" And what does darling Annie do? She glares at him, mumbles something and slams the bathroom door after her.

The mystery of Annie's secret admirer, one who isn't put off by Ryan's presence, essentially fizzles. That's not surprising, considering the way Annie refuses Ryan's help..

Winning the lottery is something that most of us fantasize about. What a wonderful story this could have been if the heroine hadn't been her own worst enemy. Perhaps if the thrust of the conflict had been external, allowing Annie and Ryan to work together, this story might have jelled. As it is, his goodness can't overcome her witchiness .

--Linda Mowery

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