A Father's Promise

Here's Looking at Ya

Wife in Name Only by Marsha Evanick
(Zebra Bouquet #45, $3.99, PG) ISBN 0-8217-6603-1
Wife in Name Only, as its title suggests, is a marriage-of-convenience story. And while the author deserves full marks for giving readers a compelling reason for such a marriage in today's times, other parts of the story tread a tired and shopworn path.

Sue Ellen Fabian is a beautician in the small town of Wild Rose, Iowa. Still single in her late twenties, one of the highlights of her life is her two godsons, children of Tiffany, her best friend from high school. When Tiffany was killed in a car wreck several years ago, Sue Ellen made it a point to spend more time with little Blake and Dalton. That also meant seeing their father, Luke Walker.

Luke never knew that Sue Ellen had a monster crush on him as a teenager. He has his hands full trying to run his farm and care for two little boys, all the while feeling the censure of Tiffany's parents. The wealthiest couple in town, Frank and Evelyn never felt he was good enough for their pampered daughter, but Tiffany had loved him. Now they are threatening so sue for custody of the boys, reasoning that they can give Blake and Dalton a better life with more attention.

Sue Ellen comes up with a desperate plan. She suggests to Luke that they pretend to be engaged. Her plans backfire when Luke decides that a better move will be to actually get married. That way there will be a woman in the house and Evelyn will have no ammunition to use against him. Sue Ellen reluctantly agrees.

I could easily buy a setup like this, and to the author's credit, Frank and Evelyn are not entirely unsympathetic characters. The author presents them as two lonely people, grieving for their daughter and taking the wrong road to try and rebuild a family of sorts. Luke was more of a cardboard hero. He needs Sue Ellen, and gosh she's pretty, and one thing leads to another. Inoffensive but not memorable. His relationship with his late wife is a romance standard, too. (Can't first marriages ever be happy ones?)

Sue Ellen didn't fare as well, or perhaps it was the aggregate clutter surrounding her character that seemed soooooo predictable. She was engaged but it fell apart when the doctor told her she'd probably never get pregnant. Convinced she's childless for good, she pours her mothering over Blake and Dalton, instead. Obviously no man would ever want her if he knew the truth. And she just can't bring herself to tell Luke the truth. Since this was a marriage of convenience, I couldn't see why this would matter so much, but there you have it.

Okay, I won't go into detail, but just once I'd like to see an author have the strength of her convictions with heroines who can't/don't want to have children, rather than the tired type of ending we always get. It makes a mockery of the conflict, too. Sue Ellen won't level with Luke because he might not want her if she can't have kids. Rather than doing something truly interesting, like showing them in love with no more kids, readers are in for the same-old, same-old. Editors, if you're insisting on this, how about breaking the mold and trying something new? The booties-and-bassinets approach has been done to death.

If marriage-of-convenience stories tickle your fancy, then by all means try Wife in Name Only. If you're looking for something different and unique, then I suggest you keep on looking.

--Cathy Sova

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