Gifts of Fortune by Barbara Boswell, Jennifer Greene & Jackie. Merritt
(Silhouette, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-48438-0
***
I have pretty much overcome my Fortune addiction. I mean, I have managed to avoid buying the last five installments of this never-ending series. But when I saw that this Christmas anthology has a story by Jennifer Greene, I succumbed once again to the lure of this incredibly rich and confusing family.

I discovered that the stories herein deal with the Fortunes only tangentially. Rather, they are tales of four people who helped Ryan Fortune (of the Texas branch) and whom he helps in turn.

“The Holiday Heir” by Barbara Boswell actually does contain another improbable “secret” Fortune. Nico Tan-efi, king of Imarco, is another one of those Arab sheiks who populate Harlequin-Silhouette books. (Does anyone else hope that now that Americans are learning more about what it is really like to be a woman in this society, that we might be spared this particular scenario?)

Actually, Nico is really Ryan Fortune’s illegitimate son, although the latter is unaware of this fact. Nico has earned Ryan’s gratitude because the king helped save Ryan’s fortune while the Texan was very ill, having been poisoned by another enemy. (I missed this particular development.) Anyway, Ryan knows that Nico gave up the love of his life because Esme was from a rival nation and their engagement threatened his hold on his country. Now that Nico has defeated his enemies, Ryan gives him a ring and some advice as to how to win Esme back.

I would rate this story as a two-hearter at best. Perhaps my response is a result of my dislike of sheik stories or perhaps it resides in the improbability of the plot. Whatever the reason, I did not particularly enjoy “The Holiday Heir.”

Jennifer Greene did not disappoint me. “The Christmas House” is a touching story of two lonely people who find love and happiness thanks to Ryan Fortune’s generosity.

Jessa Mitchell and Sebastian Quentin had come to Ryan’s assistance when his car skidded into a tree and he was in grave danger. (Ryan sure does lead an uncharmed life.) To reward his saviors, Ryan gives them a marvelous house in what is clearly an attempt at matchmaking. Obviously his ploy works but Greene manages to create two admirable characters in Jessa and Sebastian.

Jessa was abandoned by her mother at sixteen and by dint of determination and grit, she has managed to make a good life for herself as assistant buyer in an upscale shop. She is clearly a city girl. Sebastian lost his parents at nineteen and has suffered years of guilt because he had given them so much trouble. He works with young people who are heading in the wrong direction.

Greene creates two admirable characters and shows us how and why they fall in love. This novella is most enjoyable.

Jackie Merritt tells the story of another of Ryan’s beneficiaries in “Maggie’s Heart.” Dr. Maggie Taylor saved Ryan Fortune’s life when he was poisoned. Ryan knows that Maggie desperately wants to help her sister who is suffering from a rare blood disease, so he gives her $2 million for her research. Maggie knows that she needs help and she knows that the best medical researcher in San Antonio is Dr. Elliot Sandwell.

Elliot has quite a reputation as a ladies’ man so Maggie appears at a New Year’s Eve party dressed to kill to attract his attention. Elliot is attracted by the woman and by the project. Maggie, who had little time for the handsome doctor when they were residents together, wants to keep their relationship just business.

“Maggie’s Heart” is a perfectly acceptable romance, even if its grasp of the realities of medical research is a bit weak. Still, it’s a nice story.

Gifts of Fortune thus earns its three heart rating based on the average. One two heart story, one four heart story, one three heart story. The result is an acceptable Christmas anthology.

--Jean Mason


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