Her Fill-in Fiancé
by Stacy Connelly
(Harl Spec. Ed #2128, $5.25, G) ISBN 978-0373-65610-3
****
This story is the third in a series that are connected by the grooms. However, one doesn’t have to read the others to become invested in this one. Having read the other two and not been impressed, Her Fill-In Fiancé was a nice surprise and shows what Stacy Connelly can do with a story.

Sophia Pirelli comes from a loving family in a small town in California and yet she always felt she is the odd man out. Her parents seem to have it all, 35 years of marriage, a good life and many friends. Her three brothers Nick, Drew and Sam all knew what they wanted to do since they were children – a veterinarian, a construction worker and a car mechanic, respectively. Sophia however, was always the one causing her parents heartache. She felt like she could never settle and was sensitive to the small town gossip. When she got in trouble with the law, even though it wasn’t all her fault, she never forgave herself. Upon turning 18, she headed for Chicago determined to leave her past behind.

But things didn’t work out in Chicago. Sophia ended up working as a domestic for a rich family, where she subsequently was seduced by the rich son Todd Dunworthy, who left her when she discovered she was pregnant. With her tail between her legs, Sophia moved to St. Louis with her cousin where she fell for another guy, only to find out he was a private investigator out to prove what a scum Todd was to protect another woman from marrying him.

Sophia had fallen hard for Jake Cameron and his excuse of not being able to be a family man bruised her heart. But as the story opens, Sophia is on her way home for her parent’s 35th wedding anniversary party and she will have to tell them all of her secrets. First, she is pregnant with a child who will not know his father and second, t despite their hopes, her romance with Jake looks to be over.

But Jake has other ideas. While he believes he cannot be a family man due to some tough issues both growing up and with another woman, he cares for Sophia and is determined to help her get through these initial meetings with her family. He is also certain she needs her family and so he hopes to convince her to settle down in her home town to raise her child.

I truly enjoyed getting to know this boisterous loving family and watching Sophia confront her fears and her past. Most were misunderstandings and the result of a teenager’s view of the world. Sophia has to learn to accept herself to accept the fact that her family and the town accepted her a long time ago.

Her relationship with Jake is rocky and yet filled with tender moments. Jake, too, has ghosts to lay to rest before he can open up to the reality of his feelings and the fact that he not only loves Sophia, but he loves the child she carries and wants to be the father he has always dreamed of being.

The brothers are a great group of guys and since one is divorced and the other two single, one can only hope that Connelly includes them in their own stories.

Yes, there are distractions and some of the circumstances are things that can only happen in a small town. But overall, the relationship between Jake and Sophia is real enough to make the happy ever after believable and the family bonds come through in the end. While not perfect, Her Fill-in Fiancé is a good romantic story.

--Shirley Lyons


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