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Fringe Benefits by Nancy Warren
(Harl. Tempt. #943, $4.25, PG–13) ISBN 0-373-69143-2
***
> Jane Stanford is just your typical incredibly beautiful, intelligent, hard working, single girl. She’s trying to build her career in sales, which requires her to play by “men’s rules.” Try as she might, however, she cannot seem to avoid the inevitable unwanted passes and even sexual harassment that are part of the territory. Having recently been fired from her previous job after slugging an overly amorous co-worker, Jane has had enough. She is determined to be judged for her brains, rather than her beauty. Her secret weapons? A wedding ring and an imaginary husband.

With her left ring finger properly armed, Jane goes to a job interview at Datatracker, an up and coming high-tech firm which happens to be the biggest competitor of her old firm. Spencer Tate, the CEO of Datatracker, interviews Jane and is immediately attracted to her, in spite of her wedding band. He makes it clear to Jane that working for a young company requires a lot of overtime and commitment, and that such workaholic behavior has ruined more than one marriage, including his own. Jane insists that the job won’t wreck her marriage. Spencer, while intrigued by Jane, is glad she’s married, otherwise she might prove to be too distracting.

As you might expect, Jane’s plan begins to backfire on her almost immediately. For one thing, she didn’t exactly think it all through – when Spencer asks her what her husband is like, she draws a blank, and then begins to describe her fantasy man (Tom Cruise). She paints a picture of an incredibly handsome, adventurous guy who works for the entertainment industry. Naturally, Spencer is intrigued…who wouldn’t want to meet this paragon of manhood? Spencer tells Jane that there is a big company dinner coming up, and that everyone would love to meet her husband then. Jane panics and persuades (or, rather, forces) her best friend Alicia’s husband, Chuck to fill in as her husband at the dinner. This is bound to raise questions, since Chuck is a short, balding, extremely nearsighted accountant – hardly the glamorous spouse Jane has described.

As with any ill-conceived lie, things get more and more complicated as time goes on, with Jane having to cover lies with more lies. When Spencer and his sister-in-law run into Jane, Alicia, and Chuck while inline skating at the park, a predictable, mildly comic episode ensues. If Spencer’s suspicions are raised by this point, they hit the roof when he spies Alicia and Chuck celebrating an anniversary dinner at a fancy restaurant. As it all starts to make sense to him, he hightails it to Jane’s apartment, where he begins to put the moves on her. What follows is the classic game of “I know she’s lying, but I’m waiting for her to come clean on her own.”

This goes on for quite a while, because Jane has another issue on her mind – she could never respect herself if she stooped to “sleeping with the boss.” After all, she hasn’t worked this hard to be an independent career girl in a man’s world, just to throw it all away. Once we move beyond the silly misunderstandings of Jane’s sham of a marriage, Fringe Benefits takes a turn for the better. Jane becomes a more realistic character as she struggles to balance love, her career, and her values. Rather than portraying Jane as a cold, unfeeling career woman, Nancy Warren embodies her with warmth and passion. Spencer is a charming, far from perfect hero. He is a computer nerd, who cares little for how his clothing or hair looks. His dedication, both for his work and his pursuit of Jane, make him an appealing character. My only complaint about Spencer was that he seemed pretty unconcerned about the thought of carrying on an affair with an employee, in spite of the fact that this was obviously a concern of Jane’s.

The second half of this book was far better than the first. Once the characters stopped acting like something out of an “I Love Lucy” episode, they were well developed, and drew me into the story. The sexual tension was well written and quite steamy at times. Fans of Nancy Warren will no doubt enjoy Fringe Benefits. If you can get past Jane’s rather silly behavior in the beginning of the book, you will be rewarded by a nicely written romance at the end.

--Kerry Keating


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