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As Carly Phillips:


Perfect Partners by Karen Drogin
(Zebra Bouquet #04, $3.99, PG) ISBN 0-8217-6277-X
The brand new Zebra Bouquet line will be introducing four new books a month, which is good news to any category reader. Their ad copy reads, "Treat yourself to the bouquets that never wilt – sparkling romances you'll want to treasure on your keeper shelf."

With Karen Drogin as one of their authors in their first month of launching this new series, their chances for success are high. This is indeed a sparking romance. I first discovered Karen when I read her Harlequin Temptation, Brazen. Look for this talented author under the name of Carly Phillips, too.

As an attorney herself, Karen Drogin has chosen to write about two lawyers who, though they begin as adversaries, certainly don't end that way. The story opens with Chelsie Russell representing her parents in a custody case. Chelsie's sister and brother-in-law died, leaving their two-year-old daughter Alix. Chelsie's parents want custody of Alix, as does her uncle, Griffin Stuart. The Russells lose the custody case because they were caught using underhanded means to gain custody. Chelsie is glad that custody of tiny Alix is going to her brother-in-law. She feels that Griffin will do a much better job.

Not surprisingly, Griff doesn't accept Chelsie's apology.

Griff considers Chelsie to be of the same mold as the other women in his life. His mother abandoned him for greener pastures, as did his fiancé, who left him after Alix came into his life. She wasn't willing to adapt her lifestyle to adjust to a toddler. Although he and Chelsie have been in-laws for more than five years, he's never really gotten to know her. She's always avoided family gatherings, seeming to prefer her work.

What Griff doesn't know is that Chelsie was the victim of spousal abuse and visiting her sister with the perfect husband and child hurt too much, so Chelsie avoided them. When she visits Griff and Alix, she realizes that Alix is not adjusting to the loss of her parents. She's having nightmares and is running Griff ragged. Seeing Chelsie, the toddler claims her as "Mommy."

Chelsie has such a calming influence on Alix that she and Griff make plans to include her into the trio, with the understanding that she'll be there only until Alix has regained her emotional footing.

Chelsie is deeply committed to a local woman's shelter. She still regrets that she let her abuse continue too long. An engrossing and poignant episode involves a battered woman, a woman who will change the course of their lives.

Perfect Partners rehashes several familiar plot lines. Griff's good friend is a PI and asks Griff if he wants Chelsie investigated. Uh oh! We certainly have an idea where this could be leading. In another familiar scenario Griff agonizes and wonders if Chelsie wants him and Alix because of the family she can't have. Lots of ink is used while he psychoanalyzes the situation and looks at his choices from all the angles.

As I would come to each of these familiar plot lines, I'd stumble for a bit, then keep right on reading, enjoying myself. Why? Ms. Drogin has a way with characters. I not only liked Chelsie and Griff, but I admired them. They had a lot of baggage but each was willing to work on their relationship. While the glue that held them together was named Alix, the toddler wasn't on center stage too much. She was neither cutesy nor bratty but a child in need of love and support.

I consider myself lucky to have read both books by new author Karen Drogin. Her writing is polished, with no rough edges. Her dialog is natural, and her characters have substance. No matter what name she writes under, her new fans will recognize talent when they read it.

--Linda Mowery

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