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One Summer Evening
by Mary Lynn Baxter
(Mira, $5.99, PG) ISBN 1-55166-523-9
***
At 18, Cassie Wortham is about as mature as one could expect the daughter of an intensely committed minister and his very wealthy wife to be. On her birthday, while at their beach house, she makes a singularly unwise move seducing her father's best friend, Austin. It is also at that dinner that Austin announces his engagement to Cassie's "maiden aunt."

Naturally, pregnancy results and in desperation Cassie marries her current boyfriend, Lester Sullivan. Lester is a control freak and is also into militia type organizations that wish to reclaim America for the gun-toting anarchists who yearn for the old days. Cassie, fearing for her life and that of her young son, Tyler, disappears into a network of underground organizations that offer support to wives fleeing abuse.

After spending five years hiding, she emerges after learning that Lester is in prison for some big time firearms violations. Returning home after years of silence, she is welcomed by her family. However, she quickly discovers that her father will do anything to reunite her with Lester since divorce is against his religious beliefs.

Cassie is terrified and is preparing to run again when her mother shares the awful secret that she is dying and needs Cassie to take her place in hotel management in the family dynasty. Meanwhile, the aunt whom Austin had married is killed in a car accident and her share of the empire goes to Austin. Cassie finds herself in the position of sharing leadership with him. Cassie is not over her attraction to Austin, and has neglected to mention that Tyler is his son.

If you have read more than twenty romance novels, you have no doubt encountered this plot before. But Baxter does introduce some new twists. Lester's buddies buy his way out of prison and he returns to haunt Cassie. A weak secondary plot involving "drug dregs" also parallels Lester's sinister movements.

The twists in the plot are intriguing, but often the characters seem to be speaking out of voice. If judged by dialogue alone, everyone seems to be in his or her mid-twenties. Cassie and her father are the most well developed and their inner conflict is quite credible and the strongest part of the book. The external conflict meant to be represented by the "drug dregs" or the paramilitary is not so well done.

Although predictable, the love story is interesting. But the One Summer Evening is marred by unevenness and that applies to the romance as well. The author jumps around a bit and it left me one step behind or ahead for most of the time. Because Austin is four years younger than Cassie's father, the age spread is hung out there as a threat to their romance, but never really directly addressed, and just ignored in the end. All in all, the good parts at least balance the roughness in this book for an acceptable read.

--Thea Davis


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