Duets #40
Red Roses Mean Love
Whirlwind Wedding

Duets 56 by Cara Summers & Jacquie D'Alessandro
(Harl. Duets #6, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-44122-3
Need a book that will tickle your funny bone, impress you with its remarkably appealing prose and make you glad you're a romance reader? Then Cara Summers' The Life of Riley and Jacquie D'Alessandro's Naked in New England needs to be on your To Be Bought list.

Who can resist a woman who hears the sound of an animal in distress and then goes to find out what the trouble is? Riley Foster does just that and ends up rescuing a kitten who's been abandoned in an alley. When she needs rescuing from goons who've followed her, thinking that there's something valuable in her duffel bag­ it's the kitty, but it's valuable to her­ Jack DeRosa comes to her aid. Little does this cop on medical leave know that Riley is armed with a water gun loaded with vinegar and can defend herself. Works for me.

Riley and Jack meet again at the police station. Somebody has been robbing Riley's pet-sitting clients, and she's the number one suspect. She knows she's being set up when she finds some stolen jewelry in her duffel bag. Jack's boss won't let him come back to work yet, but he does agree to have Jack pose as Riley's assistant in order to ferret out the real criminals.

What follows is one of the most enjoyable, well-written stories I've read in a long time. Jack is wonderful, trusting in his instincts that Riley is innocent, even when most of the clues indicate that she's the bad guy. When some gung-ho policemen appear with a search warrant just as Riley finds more ‘planted' stolen gems, Jack believes in her innocence enough to hide the items in a place where he knows won't be searched. It gives new meaning to the term "family jewels."

A charming thread that runs through the whole story is Jack and Abra, the kitty that started it all. Abra has decided that Jack belongs to her. It's touching to see this grown man fight a losing battle against kitty love.

Jacquie D'Alessandro's Naked in New England is romance reading at its finest. I'd find myself rereading whole paragraphs, delighting in the images that this talented author creates. This is one story that could easily been transformed into a longer story, and I'd have relished every page.

Boston architect Ryan Monroe is spending two weeks in the ‘woods' where he can get some peace and quiet so that he can work on the biggest project of his career. He's borrowed his good friend's cabin while the friend is honeymooning. Ryan's first shock is when he opens the cabin door to find the cabin empty . . . no furniture, unless you count a moose head on the wall. His second shock is to meet a raccoon in the bathroom, a critter who likes drinking Maalox and shredding paper. The third and biggest shock is finding a delectable woman in his shower. This is better than finding Goldilocks.

After serious screaming and defensive maneuvers with shaving gel, Ryan calms the startled woman. They discover they've met before at the wedding of the friends who own the cabin. Instead of the peace and quiet he'd needed, Ryan realizes that he'll be sharing the cabin with Lynne Waterford who's been hired to transform the weekend cottage into something better than a fishing camp theme. Uh oh, Ryan thinks! Is she going to make it into Camp Girly Girl?

A sudden torrential storm forces them to share the cabin. Each knows that the other should be off-limits but that old devil lust won't leave them alone. Forced by proximity, these two actually talk and get to know each other, finding common ground. Ms. D'Alessandro's talent shines in these episodes. Intelligence, wit, humor, joy-- it's all here and more.

With a wonderful twist, Ryan is the city slicker who's bothered by crawly critters, with Lynne coming to his rescue time and again. She and her pet raccoon friend are a delight, particularly when the raccoon joins them for dinner.

While this story has laugh aloud moments, I always found myself grinning when these two try to cook. Thank goodness for peanut butter, although at one point Ryan is so enthralled with Lynne that he unknowingly spreads peanut butter on his wrist. Get ready to chuckle when Ryan mistakes simmering potpourri for food and tries to eat it.

He chewed once, then his jaw froze while his lips puckered a protest. Good God, he hadn't tasted anything so awful since he and Joey Seever had sampled the mudpies they'd made in second grade. And in truth, the mudpies were better.

Duets 56 sets a high standard, one that I'm going to use as a yardstick to measure other comedies. This is Grade-A humor, truly sparkling, with lines, scenes and whole pages that are as surprising and delightful as an unexpected IRS refund check. A Big One!

--Linda Mowery

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