I Now Pronouce You
Mom & Dad

The Fatherhood Factor
by Diana Whitney
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1276, $4.25, PG) ISBN 0-373-24276-X
The Fatherhood Factor is the third book in Diana Whitney's “For The Children” series. If you enjoyed her previous offerings, you probably won't be disappointed in this final book of the series.

Clementine St.Ives is at work once again. The elderly San Francisco attorney, who has appeared in the entire series, functions as a present day Dolly Levi. She manipulates events to bring lonely people and fractured families together. Clementine now sets her sights on her paralegal, Deidre O'Connor.

Deidre has used her job as a refuge from the loneliness that has overwhelmed her since the death of her husband five years earlier. Clementine thinks she has put her life on hold long enough and arranges a new position for Deidre assisting Horace and Nettie Devlin in their legal practice in Santa Barbara.

A part of Deidre's new job is to help with the care of the Devlin's twin grandsons, who are at the center of a nasty custody battle between the Devlins and the boys' father. Since Deidre has been involved in some of Clementine's previous efforts, she is aware there is more here than meets the eye, but agrees to take on the assignment.

While moving into her new duplex in Santa Barbara, Deidre meets her less than friendly, but oh so appealing next door neighbor, Ethan. She's immediately intrigued and makes an effort to be neighborly. It's difficult to understand why she persists, with Ethan slamming the door in her face twice before end of the third chapter.

Ethan is one of the most tortured heroes I've ever read. Even though he treats the perpetually perky Deidre badly at the start of the book, I couldn't help but feel sorry for him. The poor man barely survived an auto accident that has left him without the use of his right hand and has all but ended his career as a police detective. During his lengthy recuperation, his wife not only leaves him for another man, she relinquishes custody of their twin sons to Ethan's parents. They now refuse to even allow Ethan visitation unless he agrees to give up his dream of returning to law enforcement. A career they deem too dangerous for a single father.

The unsuspecting Deidre falls directly into the center of this mess, and comes to care for Ethan before she realizes he's the father involved in the custody battle. When Ethan discovers Deidre works for his father, he assumes she's part of Horace's plan to orchestrate his life and their tentative relationship quickly falls apart. Ethan, who's been repeatedly hurt by those he loves, must learn to take a chance and let Deidre into his life.

The author treads a very fine line with the conflict in this book. In order for the premise to work, there has to be a justifiable reason to keep Ethan from his sons without making him appear unsympathetic. Unfortunately, I could not accept that this gentle, tormented man would allow his parents to keep him from the sons he so obviously adores. I am unfamiliar with the legal ramifications of a situation such as this, but the entire premise just seems a little far fetched.

Although I had difficulty reconciling the conflict, I have to admit I devoured this book in one sitting. Diana Whitney is a terrific writer. In one cleverly constructed scene, Ethan and Deidre allude to their mutual attraction while speaking through the paper thin walls of their duplex. The result was incredibly sensual. This skillful writing is the reason I will definitely seek out future works from this talented author.

--Karen Lynch

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