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The Accidental Mrs. MacKenzie
by Bonnie K. Winn
(Harl. American #775, $3.99, PG ) ISBN 0-373-16775-X
***
Oh, what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive.

--Sir Walter Scott

Books based on a deception or The Big Lie can sometimes be terribly frustrating or mildly annoying. This story, terribly frustrating at first, gradually gave way to mild annoyance, then acceptance. Still, I was so frustrated by the heroine's initial actions that I never completely forgave her .

Brynn Magee is a quiet, unassuming woman who's the creator of a wildly popular syndicated cartoon strip. Stephanie, the cartoon heroine, is Brynn's alter ego and has adventures about which Brynn only dreams. Another thing that Brynn dreams about is meeting playboy Gregory MacKenzie, a man to whom she's never really spoken. She and Greg are both at a charity event when a photographer snaps Greg's picture, a photo which just happens to have Brynn in it.

Brynn asks for a copy of the photo, and her daydreams run wild. She has the photo computer-enhanced and taking it a big leap further, has a whole fictitious wedding album made, something for her personal enjoyment. This plot line left me cold. Writing your boyfriend's name on your book covers is one thing. Having a faux wedding album made seems to border on obsessive behavior.

When she reads that he's been kidnapped while on a South American business trip, she's horrified. Yet that's just the beginning. Opening her door, she finds five of Greg's relatives, there because the photographer, reading about Greg's kidnapping, sent the MacKenzie family a copy of the wedding album.

Greg's family wants to take Brynn back to their ski resort for two reasons. One, they want to know this young woman that Greg has chosen. She's their link to him. A second reason, and what spurs Brynn to accept their invitation, is Greg's father, dangerously ill. The family seems to think that he'll improve knowing that Greg's new wife is nearby.

Brynn knows that what she's doing is wrong and that she'll be found out. Greg's loving family is exactly the kind of family she's dreamed about and never has had. The family has her convinced that Mr. MacKenzie will die on the spot without her continued presence. Their support and acceptance keep her immersed in guilt. She knows that she can't leave until Greg is released.

What Brynn never counted on was Matt MacKenzie, Greg's older brother. As she gets to know Matt, she transfers her affection from one brother to the other. We're told, in an omniscient sort of sotto voce, that Greg, is a shallow cretin. He's never been a help to the family business and rarely visits. His taste runs to sophisticated bimbos. It's difficult to know if Brynn is falling for Matt because he's near, because he's one of the good guys or because she realizes that Greg is not her dream man.

Brynn's summation of her dilemma was poignant, but it was her idea in the first place to have the photo album made that started the whole mess. "Knowing that Matt couldn't cross the line she had erected with lies, Brynn was trapped. Trapped into a charade that had become meaningless. Trapped into a lifetime sentence of knowing that she had to walk away from the man she loved. Or face his censure."

I will commend Ms. Winn on the denouement. It was an unexpected high point of the book. It's a classic "All's well that ends well" scenario.

Matt is heroic and honorable, time and again. He refuses to act on his attraction to his 'sister-in-law.' Brynn just keeps perpetuating her lie. Yes, she's basically a good person caught in a lie and honor bound to keep up her charade, but that's not a plausible enough reason for me to respect this woman. No respect, no recommendation.

--Linda Mowery


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