Every Woman's Fantasy

Hero In Disguise

Manhunting in Montana

One Mom Too Many

Pure Temptation

Santa in a Stetson

Single in the Saddle

The Nights Before Christmas
by Vicki Lewis Thompson
(Harl. Tempt. #853, $3.99, R) ISBN 0-425-18199-5
Without including a single incognito royal, millionaireís secret baby, amnesiac sheikh, undercover terrorist cowboy, or supermodel-turned-social-worker, Vicki Lewis Thompson creates a delicious ďwhat ifĒ fantasy to warm the cockles of your heart (as well as other strategic locations).

How? Well, instead of wondering what would happen if an investigative journalist posing as a bodyguard entered into a marriage of convenience with a rock star so he could inherit an earldom, hereís what this author wonders. What if a girl - letís call her Suzanne - after breaking up with her critical, controlling boyfriend, discovered that the hunky handyman in her apartment complex has a reputation for mending the broken hearts of the single women in the building?

What if Suzanne were to be told in confidence, by a friend who appears to have first-hand knowledge, that the handyman - weíll call him Greg - is waiting only to be invited into her apartment to fix something. That, once heís there, she need only mention her unhappy romantic condition to get things started. That his marvelous curative abilities, both intensive and temporary, make him every girlís ideal rebound man. (The fact that itís temporary is particularly important, since no career gal in her right mind wants a permanent relationship with a handyman, right?)

So then what if, thinking that Gregís restorative carnal knowledge of all these other women must make him pretty available, Suzanne gets up the nerve to approach him. And what if, unbeknownst to Suzanne, said handyman turns out to have had a major yen for our girl, whose jerk boyfriend he is very happy to see the back of?

Well, I donít know what your imagination is cooking up, but I can tell you that in the hands of Vicki Lewis Thompson the results are a pretty terrific romance.

Greg is a sensational beta guy. The Mr. Fix-it muscles hide some endearing insecurities and self-doubts. He knows most women arenít the slightest bit interested in what he thinks, and although they love the ego strokes he provides theyíre not much interested in a permanent relationship with a handyman. The ones who have wanted more only wanted it if heíd give up the repair gig and try to make something more publicly acceptable of himself.

On the strengths side, however, heís got marvelous insight and sensitivity into what his woman needs, emotionally and (oh boy) physically, whether she knows it or not. And heís both generous and enthusiastic about supplying it. Believe me, Suzanne will never be one of those women who complain that her guy never notices anything about her.

Suzanne herself is the right girl for this set-up. Fairly ordinary looking (well, to everyone but Greg, who thinks sheís perfect) and not without her own insecurities, she would never have had the nerve to throw herself at this gorgeous man. But thinking that he likes, even expects it, gives her both the courage and the freedom to act on her attraction.

The fact that she believes sheís just one of many is, at first, liberating, as she opens herself up to a level of sensuality and risk-taking she hadnít thought was in her. Then, it becomes a burden as she finds herself getting emotionally involved and wanting something with Greg that will last - while fearing that itís only a matter of time before he moves on to the next Miss Lonelyheart.

This really is a terrific fantasy, partly because itís very romantic and partly because itís just so darn believable. If I have a complaint itís that, after gaining and maintaining a great head of steam for most of the book, the story loses some momentum towards the end. Both Greg and Suzanne have spent quite a lot of time getting to know each other, so itís a bit disappointing when they stop listening to each other get caught up with other peopleís biases and their own preconceived notions.

On the whole, though, The Nights Before Christmas should be required reading for anyone thinking of writing a category romance. The rest of you should just read it because itís romantic, sexy and fun.

--Judi McKee

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