Obsession by Gwynne Forster
(Arabesque, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN: 0-7860-0502-5
***
When Magnus Cooper showed up in Gwynne Forster's Against All Odds (1996) sporting a ten-gallon Stetson and alligator boots, he was a sexy, funny, larger-than-life Texas businessman with lots of spin-off story potential. That appeal increased that same year when he was mentioned in Forster's Christmas novella, "Christopher's Gift."

Two years later, Magnus Cooper is back. Obsession is his story.

Selena Sutton is a former Wall Street stockbroker who recently moved from New York to Waverly, Texas. After several productive and self-sacrificing years with a brokerage house, her employers refused to make her a partner because of her race and gender and she had sued them unsuccessfully for employment discrimination.

Knowing she can't return to the Wall Street old-boy network after challenging the system, she decides it's time for a change. Armed with a degree in psychology, she gets a job as a counselor in the small, small-minded town of Waverly.

Magnus and his younger brother, Edwin "Prince" Cooper, scions of the town's most prominent family, have both had their his eye on Selena since she came to town. Despite his nickname, the younger Cooper is no prince. He's a 32-year-old misfit who thinks he's God's gift to women. He is aided, abetted and adored by his mother. He is also shiftless, manipulative and dangerous.

Although Selena repeatedly rejects his advances, Prince won't take "no" for an answer. He maneuvers her to a remote area and tries to attack her. She fights him off and escapes. The ordeal leaves her hospitalized with pneumonia, bruises and broken ribs.

Prince spreads stories about his encounter with Selena that allude to a lover's quarrel gone awry. Before Selena can file charges, he leaves Waverly to lick his wounds and plot revenge against the woman who dared reject him. He is obsessed.

Meanwhile, the good people of Waverly are ready to victimize the victim. The hotel where she lives rents her suite while she is still in the hospital. Her counseling job is in jeopardy. The Waverly gossip mongers have a field day, suggesting that Selena encouraged the circumstances that led to the attack.

But big brother Magnus is watching over her. Motivated by his contempt for his brother's actions and his feelings for her, he vows to protect her. Selena thinks he's trying to avert a family scandal, but Magnus knows she won't be safe in town and takes her to the one place Prince will not harm her his ranch.

Their initial attraction now has time and a place in which to grow. After several tense weeks together, Magnus proposes he says, to protect her.

Selena and Magnus enter into a marriage of convenience. They are wary of the other's relationship with the dark Prince and of saying the words: "I love you." It's not a loveless marriage. It's an "I-Love-You" less marriage. It's so important that they hear the words that they can't bring themselves to say them!

Selena and Magnus are still wary of each other. There is sexual tension aplenty, but the interaction between the main characters lacks the verbal sparks that made Forster's earlier work Sealed with a Kiss, Against All Odds and Ecstasy more enjoyable.

Still, Forster fans will enjoy knowing what's going on with Melissa and Adam Roundtree and Nadine, Wade and Christopher Malloy characters from Against All Odds and "Christopher's Gifts."

Obsession gives brotherhood, motherhood and neighborliness a bad name. Magnus is plagued by a "Mom-Always-Liked-You Best" relationship with his brother and mother. Selena is stalked by her brother-in-law, vilified by her mother-in-law and sent packages with creepy contents. She receives poison pen letters from an anonymous woman. Yet, Magnus and Selena always seem to find the time to question the other's feelings for one another. The obsessions in this book take many, many forms.

I found the love story between Magnus' longtime housekeeper and surrogate mother, Tessie, and Jackson, his ranch hand, more satisfying than the main characters'. The warmth shines through and it doesn't take forever to get there.

This is a big book, nearly 400 pages. But the author crams partial explanations and an erstwhile resolution into the last chapters.

First-time readers and many loyal Gwynne Forster fans who have waited two years probably will enjoy Magnus Cooper's story. Other Forster fans, like me, are still waiting for the sexy, funny, larger-than-life Texas businessman in ten-gallon Stetson and alligator boots to show up.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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