Tongue-Tied by Colleen Collins
(Harl. Tempt. #899, $4.25, PG-13) 0-373-69099-1
Tongue-Tied opens as Robin Lee is having one of the worst days of her life, culminating in one of the least-believable opening scenes I've ever read. This shy, plain, stuttering reviewer wannabe and university dropout who's filling in for a coffee shop waitress responds to an ex-classmate's pity by suddenly soul-kissing the guy at the next table just to prove she's not a loser. Thankfully, the rest of the plot is more realistic.

Jonathan "Johnny" Dayton is the CEO of a Denver technology company, OpticPower, complete with a wise, dependable secretary, a female headhunting VP whos well-known for her sudden, infamous, and often undeserved firings, with whom Johnny struggles constantly to control, and looks and a body that have made him one of Denver's top ten bachelors for years. But he's tired of the women who continually throw themselves at him, and after that first kiss with Robin, followed by several more when he walks her home from the coffee shop, he finds himself attracted to her, partly because she's the little sister of one of his high school friends from back home. He likes the way she talks with her eyes, her blushes and her curvy body, and he knows that when she feels safe at home, she doesn't stutter. He also knows that she knew him when he was the town bad boy, dealing with an alcoholic mother and a delinquent younger brother, living on the wrong side of town. Thats the Johnny hes determined to show her, the old Johnny, not the new one.

Robin, of course, has had a crush on Johnny since she was in middle school and he convinced her to get up on stage to accept a writing award. When she sees and kisses him in the coffee shop, she doesn't know who he is. But when she sees him outside after she gets off work, Robin suddenly realizes who has magically come back into her life, even though she has no idea who he has become. He walks her home, and their relationship begins.

But it's a rocky road these two have to walk, given his problems keeping his employees happy and making sure their projects get in on time in spite of Christine, the afore-mentioned VP, and hers with her inability to communicate easily. Still the chemistry and the firecracker hot sex they share is sure to overcome everything, until Robin finds out that Johnny is not the blue collar fiberoptic lineman he's told her he is, but the CEO of one of the blue ribbon tech stars of the Denver area. She reacts the very way hed been afraid she would, by rejecting him completely. She had always loved Johnny, but wanted nothing to do Jonathan P. Dayton, who is cold and tough and brusque, and will stop at nothing, even lying, to protect his company and his employees.

There is no doubt that the unbelievable opening scene will put off some readers, but the rest of the book is much more realistic. I especially appreciated the way that Johnny was able to deal with Robin's handicap, including his not requiring her to talk when he called her from out of town, allowing her to become more comfortable with him in their new, unfolding relationship before trying to talk. The scene where she confronts him about his dishonesty in the middle of a media interview is believable, because the author had made frequent references to her being able to speak easily when very angry.

However, the resolution of Robins stuttering is less plausible. I am skeptical that a problem twenty-six years in the making that has never been treated and is as debilitating as the author makes it seem earlier in the book would be resolved in only six months or less.

Overall, once the opening scene is past, this is an enjoyable read, though it is not particularly memorable. Its strength lies in its portrayal of a handicapped heroine, its description of the frustrating and overwhelming nature of the handicap of stuttering, and the depiction of a hero who begins to understand and deal with her problems as well as his own. In addition, the use of email to strengthen the nonsexual part of their relationship adds to the story and to the idea that perhaps alternate ways of communicating can overcome the difficulties of face-to-face communication. Id recommend Tongue-Tied to readers looking to compile lists of romances involving less than perfect main characters, but they may want to check it out of their local library rather than giving it permanent shelf space at home.

--Joni Richards Bodart

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