The back of my copy of And Then He Kissed Me assured me that this is Patti Berg’s first Avon Romance Superleader, she’s a USA Today bestselling author, this is her best book yet, and readers are going to love it, etc.
Yeah, yeah. Same song, forty-ninth verse.
Maybe if you haven’t had your fill of zany, screwball heroines in contemporary “comedies”, the antics of Juliet Bridger won’t grate on your nerves as much as they did mine. Juliet is a fabulously wealthy, fabulously beautiful actress who also happens to be a best-selling mystery novelist. Her ex-husband, the man who “discovered” her and made her a star, is a lying scumbag, now serving a seven-year prison sentence. A tabloid keeps running tacky stories about her. Juliet decides one night, in the middle of a party, that she simply can’t take it any more! No more champagne and caviar! No more fame and fortune! She needs to get back to her working-class roots!
So Juliet digs out her old backpack, determined to get away where nobody will recognize her. To that end, she throws in a few pairs of underwear and takes off in her vintage pink Mustang, still clad in evening gown and stilettos. She dyes her hair black and stops only long enough to pick up a few essentials - like pink Kate Spade sunglasses, a pink designer tote in the shape of a flamingo, and a pair of pink Jimmy Choos stilettos. (We’re reminded that she wears these Jimmy Choos about thirty-seven times in this book. Juliet never seems to take them off.) Oh, and a pair of skintight capris and a supply of Dubble Bubble gum. Now that Juliet has absolutely everything she needs to survive, she’s off to rediscover herself.
Juliet’s car breaks down outside little Plentiful, Wyoming, and the guy who stops to help is Cole Sheridan, the local vet, who looks like hell after having attended to a messy foaling. Juliet jumps back in her car and locks all the doors, sure this guy is a rapist or murderer. Isn’t every grubby-looking guy out in the heartland a rapist or murderer? After all, she’s watched “America’s Most Wanted”! But then she allows him to hook a chain to her car and tow her to town. (Apparently the idea that he can now tow her down a side road and murder her doesn’t register, but Juliet hasn’t demonstrated much in the way of brain cells so far, so why start now?) Cole has his hands full with five little girls, left in his care by his late, hippie-ish sister. Nanny Number 13 has just quit, and Cole’s parents, tie-dyed-in-the-wool hippies themselves, are arriving soon to try and take the girls away.
When a man tailing her to dig up dirt for the tabloid steals Juliet’s wallet, she ends up working as a housekeeper-nanny for Cole, as well as tending bar part-time. She gives her name as “Autumn Leeves”, and totters around town on her Jimmy Choos, twitching her butt in her tight capris and sending Cole into a raging case of lust.
Although Juliet does show flashes of maturity when dealing with Cole and the girls, it’s hard to get past her over-the-top exterior and take her seriously. Rich, beautiful celebrity types who moan about the emptiness of their lives leave me cold. There’s precious little in Juliet to admire or sympathize with. And the whole Kate Spade-capri pants-Jimmy Choos stuff is just too much. The mental image of Juliet dressed in her hoochie clothes and wobbling on her stilettos around a little Wyoming town elicited a snort, and it wasn’t of laughter.
The character that lifts this book into two-heart territory is Cole. Child of hippies, he gave up his dreams when saddled with the girls, and though he doesn’t really quite know what to do with them, he doesn’t want to turn them over to his freewheeling parents. To be honest, the parents are so over-the-top that there’s little sense of tension in the custody issue. Cole’s father has taken a vow of silence and won’t speak for five years, spending much of the day on his PlayStation. His mother peddles outlandish jewelry to the rich, they flit off to Tibet or Timbuktu at the drop of a hat, and no sane judge would even consider putting five little children in their care. For all that, Cole is a pretty decent guy.
As for the villain who is behind all the tabloid stuff, it’s out in the open from the start. Everything is wrapped up in double-time at the end, leaving the distinct impression that the author’s page count was running out and everything had to be jammed in quickly.
If you haven’t tried one of Patti Berg’s novels yet, I can’t recommend starting with And Then He Kissed Me. One of her earlier efforts would be a better bet.