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A Heart for the Taking

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Love Be Mine by Shirlee Busbee
(Warner, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-446-60530-1
***
Love Be Mine is classic Busbee: young beauty with some shaky personal situation (family or financial), powerful handsome hero, lovers with a Big Misunderstanding, separations that create Bigger Misunderstandings, convoluted family relationships, blonde bitchy Other Woman who lies and lies again, handsome but morally bankrupt villain. It's not a bad book in fact, I got caught up in it fairly quickly it's just that I've read it before ... several times.

When the author's Gypsy Lady was first published over twenty years ago, it was a real departure from other romances of the day a hero and heroine with the passion of Rosemary Rogers' characters but with some moral fiber, a real plot that did more than give the hero and heroine an excuse to interact, and powerful writing. Her next several books continued that model, but her more recent romances don't seem to have the strong plots that distinguished Gypsy Lady and similar books.

Love Be Mine is reminiscent of those earlier stories (but without the hero-inadvertently-rapes-heroine device that was so troubling). The writing is still excellent; the main characters (and there are several) are well developed. If only it featured a truly compelling plot, I believe it would be an outstanding book and I could be more enthusiastic.

Micaela Dupree (young dark-haired, dark-eyed Creole beauty) and her mother Lisette are horrified to learn that Hugh Lancaster (hunky Americain) is moving permanently to New Orleans. The year is 1804, and the Creole population of New Orleans is still angry that the Louisiana Territory has been sold to the United States by "that upstart Corsican general." What particularly upsets Micaela and Lisette is that Hugh intends to manage the family business.

This gets complicated, but it's really important to understanding the plot so pay attention. (I'm doing you a favor by condensing what requires pages and pages of the book to cover.) Hugh's stepfather John Lancaster, an American from Natchez, came to New Orleans over two decades earlier to establish a trading company with New Orleans residents. The result was the formation of Galland, Lancaster and Dupree. Lisette's father was Galland; her husband and his brother were Dupree. John Lancaster had the controlling interest of 55% but has been managing only the Natchez end of the business for years. Lisette's father and husband are now dead and her brother-in-law Jean (Micaela's uncle) manages the shares that Lisette and Micaela own. Micaela's younger brother Francois is also involved in the company.

Francois shares a passion for gambling with his late grandpere Galland, and their reckless losses have combined to result in 5% of the business going to Alain Husson (who's got an extenuated family connection to the Duprees and is a friend of Francois) and Jasper De Marco (whom you can forget because he's not very important).

Now Hugh Lancaster has purchased 45% of the total shares from his stepfather and is going to assume management of the business with his controlling interest. The Creoles have a very casual attitude to the day-to-day management and have left the actual operation to employees. Earnings for the last several years, however, have been severely reduced, and the business is in serious danger. Hugh is convinced that thievery is the cause.

Micaela and Hugh, of course, are strongly attracted to each other, but Micaela is hostile towards him because of her allegiances to family and culture. Hugh begins courting a cool blonde American beauty, Alice Summerfield, but he doesn't feel the same sensual attraction that he feels towards the more passionate Micaela.

Francois is deeply in debt to Alain who agrees to forgive the debt if he marries Micaela. Micaela, however, is uncomfortable with Alain and is adamant that she will not marry him. She expresses this in no uncertain terms to her brother; the discussion is overheard by Hugh who believes that they are referring to him. (When this misunderstanding is finally cleared, Micaela gets a great line. Hugh asks her if she really thinks he'd stoop to dishonorable tactics to get control of her shares. Micaela responds, "Why should I not? You believed it of me." (Way to go, girl!)

Francois and Uncle Jean connive to have Alain compromise Micaela so that she will be forced to marry him, but things do not go as planned. Moreover, business problems are escalating, Alice behaves in typical Other Woman fashion, Francois's got a major predicament, and Lisette's big secret may be revealed.

I didn't say this wasn't a complicated plot it's just not very compelling. Most of the complications arise from the machinations of nasty, underhanded characters. Conflict is, of course, a requirement for any plot, but virtually all of the conflict in Love Be Mine is provided by villainous characters (plural), and that gets redundant after a while.

Hugh and Micaela seem to be attracted to each other primarily because the plot requires it. Hugh is one of those fabulous, larger-than-life heroes so prevalent in romance novels, and Micaela is the stereotypical passionate beauty. I prefer my heroes and heroines, however, to have some emotional need for one another above and beyond appreciation of broad shoulders and flashing black eyes.

I am sure that many readers will enjoy this book. There are several reasons to appreciate it, particulary the writing. I just wish that the plot and the character motivation matched the quality of the writing as Ms. Busbee has demonstrated is possible in her early romances.

--Lesley Dunlap


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