Her Sister's Secret Son

The Wedding Bargain

His Pretend Wife by Lisette Belisle
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1536, $4.75, PG) ISBN 0-373-24536-X
His Pretend Wife is a frustrating read in a sense. The storyline is interesting at first, but along the way there are a number of improbable happenings that strain credulity and interrupt the flow. Add a lifeless heroine and a cardboard hero, and you have a book that fails to satisfy at all.

Abby Pierce works for her brother’s logging operation in Maine. One of the newer workers, Jack Slade, both irritates and intrigues her. Jack and her brother, Drew, met in prison, where Drew served a five-year sentence for a safety violation - he repaired a gas valve himself rather than replace it. (Improbability Number One: with prisons as crowded as they are, this seemed unlikely.) The valve exploded and injured a number of people. The Pierce family was so embarrassed at their son’s jailbird status that they turned their back on him, closed down their logging operations, and moved away. (Improbability Number Two: this may have filled a plot need, but it sounded far-fetched at best. Also, civil lawsuits were never mentioned.) Abby was the only one to stand by her brother.

Jack is badly injured when a piece of logging equipment overturns and pins him to the ground out in the woods. Abby notices that he doesn’t check in at the end of the day, and at her urging, everyone goes to investigate. Jack’s leg is mangled, and as Abby waits with him for the rescue helicopter to arrive, he makes her promise that she won’t let the doctors amputate. Then he passes out. Abby, in order to keep her word, tells the rescue team she’s Jack’s wife, a charade she must continue at the hospital. Abby pays for a noted surgeon to come up from Boston and operate on Jack’s leg. The surgeon manages to save it, but when Abby tries to talk with him afterward, he brushes her off with the barest of information, telling her he has to catch a plane. (Improbability Number Three: she’s paying his fee, so why won’t he make time to talk to her? Doctors do talk to the family after major operations, I believe.)

Abby decides to stay at the hospital and help Jack with his recovery, over the protests of her brother and her would-be fiancé. Jack isn’t sure he wants Abby around, either. She’s too far out of his reach, you see. Abby is determined, however, and when Jack is moved to a rehab unit, she perseveres in helping him to walk again. A younger patient also becomes part of the plot and Jack finds himself thawing out and becoming emotionally involved. Abby’s mother arrives to see what her daughter is up to, and Abby worries that her mother will boss her around, like she normally does. Mom says she’s wanted to mend fences with Drew but their father refuses, and she can’t talk him into it. (Improbability Number Four: is she bossy or a wimp?)

This story never came alive for me. Abby floats through the story being a good girl, falling in love with Jack, and basically making little impression. Jack carries the clichéd chip on his shoulder of “she’s too good for me and would never love me anyway, so I’ll push her away”, thereby giving himself leave to act cold, surly, and downright ornery.

The conflicts at the end are as flimsy as some of the other plot points, and revolve around Jack’s unwarranted reaction to finding that Abby told him a lie about his prognosis in order to give him hope and speed his recovery. The final Dark Moment and Separation are forced at best - there’s little substance to them and only serve to make Jack look like he’s determined to be a martyr. It’s all predictable.

His Pretend Wife isn’t likely to make much impression beyond “been there, read that”. In the end, what I remember most are the improbabilities, which doesn’t leave much room for a recommendation. Give this one a pass.

--Cathy Sova

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