As Alison Kent:

The Badge & the Baby

Love Me Tender by Michaila Callan
(Bouquet #15, $3.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-6350-4
I really want Kensingtonís Bouquet line to succeed. Iíve read a number of the early books in this new series and have enjoyed most of them. Which is why I really wanted to recommend this book unreservedly. Clearly it is, like many of the other Bouquet books, something of a departure from the stories that we find in most category romances.

There is much to like about Love Me Tender but one niggling problem kept me from unabashed admiration. Since that problem centers on the motivations and behavior and actions of the hero, I think you can understand my dilemma.

The heroine is a familiar one: an unwed mother but with double the trouble. Eden Karr had a high powered career with a fashion magazine, a loft in Soho, and a significant other who was nicely attentive during those times when she wasnít on the road. But when she accidentally became pregnant, it turned out that said significant other wasnít what he seemed. In fact, he was a married man. An understandably distraught Eden had kicked him out of her loft and life. And then she reevaluated her future.

Eden decided that she would have trouble maintaining her lifestyle with a baby. And when she discovered that she was carrying twins, her decision to leave the rat race made even more sense. So she headed off to the small town of Arbor Glen, Texas, to open a boutique and make a new life for herself.

Taken under the wing of the kindly bakery owner Molly, Eden is working hard to establish The Fig Leaf so that she can support her children. When the shop needs more shelving, Molly recommends the reclusive carpenter, Jace Morgan. When the handsome man walks into her store, Mollyís hormones go into overdrive. For his part, Jace is bowled over by the attractive newcomer to town. He is also bowled over when he realizes that she is pregnant.

Jace is himself a refugee from the urban rat race. A highly competitive and successful architect, he abandoned his career to retreat to the country where he does carpentry work and makes exquisite furniture.

The two embark on a friendship with all sorts of sensual overtones. What Callan does exceptionally well is to portray the dynamics of the growing relationship. The two banter back and forth, learn more about each other, advance and retreat, and fall in love. This is the best part of the book.

What didnít work for me were Jaceís apparent motives. I can certainly understand why someone would flee the eighty plus hour weeks that characterize too much of work today. What never quite worked for me was Jaceís guilt over somehow having failed his friends. I simply didnít understand what this was all about and the author never quite made it clear for me. Since his conviction that he is a failure as a friend is one of the motivations for the conflict in the story, this was a problem.

I also found Jaceís actions at the end of the book strangely inexplicable. But I leave it for other readers to discover if the share my puzzlement.

Still, there is much to like about the book. The citizens of the artsy town of Arbor Glen are an interesting bunch and well drawn. Edenís ups and downs as she adjusts to her new life and her impending motherhood ring true. Her doubts and fears about her growing feelings for Jace are similarly well done. And Callan sure knows how to do sexual tension.

Readers who want a slightly different romance may well enjoy Love Me Tender. I have generally enjoyed this authorís books and there is much to enjoy in this one. But there is that niggling problem with the hero. . . .

--Jean Mason

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