Her Mysterious Houseguest
by Jane Toombs
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1391, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-24391-X
Mikel Starzov is on a vacation of sorts. Well, at least he isnít at work. He is spending his time off doing his buddy and fellow-agent a favor and tracking down that buddyís long-lost sister-in-law. Mikel has a hunch that her disappearance coincided too neatly with the departure of the girlís teacher. Heís tracked the teacherís family - the teacher has long since died - to Michiganís Upper Pennisula.

Mikel arrives at the farm where they live just in time to see an elderly man having a stroke. After Mikel helps rush him to the hospital, the manís relative, Rachel Hill, feels obligated to let him stay until the man (the missing teacherís father) recovers and is able to answer Mikelís questions. Since the teacherís daughter is also away on vacation, all Mikel can do is wait for the family members to return.

The waiting isnít that bad. He feels an instant attraction to Rachel. She is interested in Mikel, but unwilling to go any further than admire him. While Mikel helps out on the farm he becomes more and more enmeshed in Rachelís and the elderly Ainoís lives. When Mikeís grandmother, Sonia, who is a whirlwind of tart-tongued delight, arrives, Aino finds Sonia annoying but entertaining. Her arrival seems a little far-fetched, but adds a lot of sparkle to the group.

Unfortunately this story needs even more sparkle. The premise has some interest, but what would have zipped along in a shorter story drags here. You know Rachelís secret long before Mikel does - in fact, everyone on the farm knows before super-agent Mikel does.

Mikelís instant attraction to Rachel is stated often enough, but seems unconvincing. Rachelís fears, of guns and of telling Mikel anything, seems more real than her growing interest in him. How can a guy fall in love with someone who is hesitant to talk to him? And how can a woman fall in love when she is terrified to trust anyone? Add in that Mikel has decided all women are potential betrayers - he had one bad experience with a woman but seems to forget his grandmother and other female friends are trustworthy enough - and you wonder why the romance develops at all on his part. Rachel remains rather passive in the story, too. Even when Rachel does show Mikel the truth, she does it in an indirect way. Apparently, just telling Mikel would be too hard.

The ending, which suddenly introduces a lot of new people, just clouds the HEA with more characters. Presumably these new folks are thrown in because they are all part of a series, but they add very little to the current story.

--Irene Williams

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