Cassie's Fortune by Linda Shertzer
(Jove, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-515-12837-6
***
How would you like to have your own, personal crystal ball to show you the future? Like Cassie Bowen, in Cassie's Fortune, your crystal ball would show you the man you were going to fall in love with, the investments that would make you wealthy, and the obscure lawyer named Abraham Lincoln who would shortly become the 16th president of the United States. Sounds good? Maybe not…not when the crystal ball is named Sebastian and is part of the Bowen family curse.

Cassie Bowen is a spinster of 25, living with her brother and sister-in-law in Philadelphia, when her Aunt Flora summons her to Lyman's Gap, 15 miles from Pittsburgh. Aunt Flora is frail and elderly and knows that she is dying…remember the crystal ball?…but before she dies, she tells Cassie about the Bowen family curse.

Four hundred years earlier, a gypsy, cheated of her payment and robbed of her crystal ball, cursed the Bowens, telling them that in each generation a son and a daughter would be born, but the daughter would never marry. Instead, that daughter would become the sole custodian of Sebastian, able to predict the future, unable to find anyone who believes her predictions.

Four steps have to occur to lift the curse, Flora tells Cassie. "You must lose something you can't afford to lose, trust someone you have no reason to trust, love someone with no hope of him ever loving you in return," and someone must believe in one of your predictions.

The first scene Sebastian reveals to Cassie -- at almost the same moment that Aunt Flora dies -- shows Cassie with Aunt Flora's attractive next-door neighbor in an X-rated clinch. Brent Conway is the editor of the newspaper Argus and, as Flora's only neighbor, had kept an eye on the elderly lady. Even though Aunt Flora warned Cassie that Brent was "a likable schemer" and "a rascal," watching their nude bodies entwined predisposes Cassie's heart to beat faster whenever Brent comes close.

Brent doesn't need a lascivious crystal ball to spark his interest in his appealing new neighbor. Not only is she attractive but, in his opinion, Cassie needs his help and guidance. Brent is worried because she is getting a reputation around town for eccentricity, based on her accurate predictions of the number of piglets Woody Tucker's sow will have and Lem Hopkins' broken arm.

Cassie needs assistance with her investments, too, Brent thinks. She has this crazy idea that the oil that seeps out of the ground in northwestern Pennsylvania can be extracted economically. Cassie, of course, thinks differently. She knows that the black ooze can be made profitable, based on the scenes Sebastian has shown her.

Linda Shertzer's depiction of a small town in the mid-nineteenth century is charming, filled with well-drawn, differentiated characters. Sebastian, a crystal ball with character, also held my attention as Cassie learned about both his advantages and his disadvantages while trying to figure out how to break the Bowen curse. Unfortunately, the affair between Cassie and Brent never quite set off the sparks that I expect in a romance, principally, I think, because of Sebastian's role.

The steamy pictures Sebastian showed Cassie excited her interest in Brent before they got to know each other. When they did, Brent proved to be a generally good sort -- the type of man most of us could love -- but Sebastian's actions had already taken most of the suspense out of their early relationship. As a result, I found myself more interested in how Cassie won free of Sebastian than in the culmination of her romance with Brent.

With that caveat in mind, you may still find Cassie's Fortune an enjoyable way to pass several quiet hours.

--Nancy J. Silberstein


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