Found: One Wife

Her Secret Lover

Tis the Season

The Wrong Bride

Looking for Laura by Judith Arnold
(Mira, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-55166-828-9
Popular category writer Judith Arnold’s debut single title is a sweetly humorous contemporary romance which is sure to win her new fans. This is the story of a widow who discovers that her husband was unfaithful and his best friend who feels equally betrayed because he didn’t know. As the two go Looking for Laura, they find something much better - love.

Three months after her husband Paul was killed in an auto accident, Sally Driver decides to clean out his bureau. There, wrapped in a sweater, she discovers an envelope full of love letters from a woman named Laura. It is clear that this was no long ago relationship, but rather evidence of an extramarital affair. Sally is devastated. She knew that Paul had married her because she accidentally became pregnant, but she had thought that theirs was a successful marriage, despite the very real differences between them.

Sally’s first response is to rush off to confront Paul’s best friend, Todd Sloane, the editor of the local newspaper. She wants to know who this Laura is. But Todd denies that he had any idea that Paul was having an affair. He is shocked that the man who was like a brother to him had kept something like this secret. Sure, you don’t tell your wife, but you don’t keep something like this from your best buddy! Todd is equally curious about the identity of the mysterious Laura. So the two team up to find out who she is.

Although Todd had spent lots of time with Paul, he really doesn’t know Sally very well. His opinion of her is not very high, reflecting as it does Paul’s confidences. Paul had portrayed his wife as a flake, without taste or much intelligence, the very opposite of the kind of woman he should have married. Todd had always resented that Sally had “trapped” his friend.

Sally had been a twenty year old coed when the handsome lawyer had waltzed into the cafe where she was working her way through college. She had been dazzled by his charm and sophistication and she had been grateful that he had done the right thing when she got pregnant. She knew that a country girl from upstate New York and an Ivy Leaguer born with the proverbial silver spoon didn’t have much in common, but she had worked hard at being a good wife and mother. She had also become a successful businesswoman, turning the cafe into the town’s favorite gathering place.

As they work together to find Laura, Todd discovers that his opinion of Sally is way off base. Yes, she’s something of a free spirit. Yes, she is spontaneous while his friend had been buttoned up. But she also exudes a natural sensuality that makes Todd wonder why in the world Paul would have even considered straying. Sally also discovers that Todd is very different from what she believed. He is actually very unlike her husband, much warmer, much more comfortable.

Arnold makes the move to the longer format with a deft hand. She uses the extra space to create a cast of delightful secondary characters who enrich her story and serve to provide added insight into the personalities of the hero and heroine. Todd’s problem parents, who are having a hard time adjusting to retirement, add a nice touch of humor to the story. Sally’s clerk Tina, a college student trying to make the transition to grown-up and not succeeding too well, is another delight.

Perhaps the most fully developed secondary character is Sally’s daughter Rosie. Arnold has always done kids very well and Rosie is no exception. She comes across as a real five-year old and her relationship with her mother has a real ring of authenticity.

The author blurb reports that Judith Arnold has written over sixty-five novels since 1983. She is one of Harlequin/Silhouette’s most respected and popular authors. It’s nice to think that readers who (wrongly, I believe) avoid category romances will now have the opportunity to enjoy her humorous but wise take on love and life. I only wonder why it took her publisher so long to encourage her to make the move to single title. Looking for Laura should be the first of many delightful contemporary novels from Judith Arnold.

--Jean Mason

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