Bride Included

Forbidden

Private Pleasures

Ready-Made Bride

 
Christmas Fantasy
by Janelle Denison
(Harl. Tempt. #759, $3.75, R) ISBN 0-373-25859-3
****
Christmas Fantasy revisits the hero-as-exotic-dancer (okay, stripper) theme that has tantalized readers in the past. Austin McBride, owner of Fantasy for Hire, steps in at the last minute to deliver a birthday gift to Theodora Spencer. Dressed as a cowboy, he delivers the goods to Teddy in a crowded bar, much to the delight of the onlooking crowd.

Teddy, daughter of country-club blueblood types, has spent the last several years struggling to create an independent life for herself. Her career as a graphic designer is going well, and she's in line for a promotion -- but her boss is not-so-subtly insinuating that he'd "like to know her better", and he doesn't seem convinced when she tells him she has a boyfriend.

Well, it's true -- she doesn't. Now this gorgeous hunk, who left her with a wink, a Stetson, and a business card inside the hat brim, might be the answer to her prayers. If Teddy can only convince Austin to accompany her to the office Christmas party, maybe she can get the boss off her back and still get the promotion.

Austin has other ideas, however. He wants to sell the Fantasy business and concentrate on his fledgling commercial landscaping company, which is just becoming profitable. He's attracted to Teddy. But she's obviously out of his league. How will she react to a guy with dirt under his fingernails, no matter how much sexual chemistry is between them? And Teddy is leery of marriage. Her parents' insistence that she devote herself to becoming a wife and mother grate on her, and her protests fall on deaf ears.

The chemistry is definitely the high point of the book. The author sets up the tension beautifully, and Austin is a strong hero as he determinedly pursues Teddy. His vulnerability as he wonders whether she'll accept him is charming, as is his handling of their sexual attraction. Teddy is less sympathetic; her refusal to simply tell her boss she's not interested makes her into a bit of a wimp, and the concept of looking for another job never seems to cross her mind, even though we're told she's highly skilled. She's equally pallid when dealing with her overbearing parents. One would think that a simple "I'm not interested in marrying yet, Mom, get over it" wouldn't be so hard to say.

So why the four-heart rating? Well, for all that Teddy was a bit exasperating at time, the relationship between Austin and Teddy is strong, and it's the focus of the book. Even though their romance is a whirlwind, I was still left with the satisfied feeling that the HEA would stick. There will be a spin-off book featuring Austin's brother, Jordan, and I'm looking forward to seeing what the author has up her sleeve for him.

--Cathy Sova


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