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The Secret Millionaire
by Patricia Thayer
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1252, $4.25, PG) ISBN 0-373-24252-2
***
The Covelli curse is the central theme in Patricia Thayer's miniseries, With These Rings. The next book will cross over into Silhouette Romance. The curse, a recent one, is really quite simple. During World War II, Vittoria fell in love with handsome American soldier Enrico Covelli. Her family's only valuable possession was a set of ruby rings, meant for the firstborn daughter. The rings had been given to her fiancÚ as a betrothal gift. When she broke off the engagement to marry Enrico, the fiancÚ returned the groom's ruby ring, but kept the bride's ring. In addition, his mother cursed the rings, saying that until they were again joined, the Covellis would not have an easy road to love.

Rick Covelli has returned home, the prodigal son, after a stint in the Marines and time in the Texas oil fields. His last visit was two years ago, for his dad's funeral. As he walks into his mother's Italian restaurant, he barely recognizes Jill Morgan, who has matured since he last saw her. Two years before, Jill, a gentle, soft-spoken young woman, had let him talk about his father and hadn't passed judgment on Rick's extended absence. He remembers her as a blue-eyed angel.

Rick, a new millionaire compliments of the Texas oil fields, is back for several reasons. One is to clear his father's name. His father had died in what may not have been a construction accident. The Covelli name needs to be cleared if the sons hope to get new bids for construction.

Jill is attracted to Rick, but now has a young son to worry about. When she told her baby's father about her pregnancy, his suggestion had been to end the pregnancy. Her parents had disowned her, so she's had to learn to be self-sufficient. She's not interested in having a quickie relationship with Rick, which is all it may be. He can't decide if he wants to stay or return to Texas. Rick is not sure that he deserves to be welcomed by his family with open arms. Perhaps his father was right about him. And is he good enough for Jill?

Many minor plot threads add some interest but cannot sustain it for the whole story. The Covelli curse information and Rick's self-doubt about his role in the family are there, but there's more about Jill. She's trying to finish college, raise her son, reestablish her relationship with her parents and finally, figure out what to do about Rick.

These two run a bit hot and cold for me. That they're interested sexually is a given, but Jill in particular is almost adolescent in her feelings. I want him, I want him not, I want him . . . I wondered if she was playing at love, saying, "No," just waiting to be persuaded.

This title baffles me. Although Rick never flaunts his wealth, he is not ashamed of it. He's loaned his family money to seed the construction business; he's openly paying for a private investigator to help determine the true cause of his father's death. Jill is never portrayed as a woman who is after money, so it's not as though Rick is worried that she'll want him for his money. Her goal is to finish college and become a teacher, a profession not known for its financial rewards.

The Secret Millionaire is bland and inoffensive, hardly a ringing endorsement but far from those 'don't bother' books we read occasionally. We did meet Covellis relatives whose stories will elaborate on the curse. I for one will be interested in younger sister Angelina's story. She's lost none of her spunk, in spite of having overbearing older brothers. Perhaps she'll be the spark that brings it together and finally has the bride's ruby ring. We'll just have to wait and see.

--Linda Mowery


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