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I’m In No Mood For Love
by Rachel Gibson
(Avon, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-77317-0
***
This book is filled with the delightful steam that is a Rachel Gibson trademark. Unfortunately, it’s also filled with filler.

Clare Wingate has been raised in the strictest stiff upper lip tradition, so when she finds her fiancé on the floor of her walk-in closet having sex with a repairman she pulls up her pink tulle gown and goes to her friend’s wedding. There, she is an exemplary bridesmaid. Until they start serving alcohol at the reception.

The next morning she finds herself nearly naked in bed in the hotel where the reception was held. The shower is running, so she knows she’s not alone, but before she can make her humiliated escape, Sebastian Vaughan comes out of the bathroom.

Sebastian is Clare’s childhood nemesis – the son of her mother’s gardener and the mischievous opposite of the carefully good Clare. Sebastian, now an award-winning journalist, is visiting Boise to mend fences with his estranged father, who still works for Clare’s snobby mother. Clare, a romance novelist, writes, hangs out with her friends and tries to win her mother’s approval.

There really isn’t any more plot than that, which is not a bad thing in and of itself. Sebastian and Clare circle each other for some time before ending up in bed and this lengthy foreplay crackles with sexual tension. The heat factor continues to build after they start sleeping together, and Ms. Gibson does a wonderful job of using the sex to show how the emotional relationship between the hero and heroine is growing.

Which is really good, because it’s not quite so clear at other times. For one thing, I found it a bit difficult to warm up to both of them as people. As a romance hero, Sebastian is a bit of an odd throwback who informs Clare that “you know you want it” and that he’s going to give her “what you need so damn bad.” I like guys who are guys, but I’m not a fan of this caveman mentality.

Clare spends too much time anticipating getting sucker-punched by Sebastian, based on the fact that he teased her and tricked her as a child. If an author is going to make one character mistrust another, it’s a lot more compelling if there’s something real to base it on. In fact, there really isn’t anything keeping these two apart except the fact that Sebastian doesn’t do commitment.

Because the chemistry worked so well when they were together, it’s a shame the author gave them so much time apart. These are the bits that felt like filler – the author marking time until she could get back to the romance. Clare gets together with her girlfriends, helps her mother entertain and writes. Sebastian goes car-shopping with his father and travels to India for a story. They aren’t even together when Sebastian has his big epiphany about their relationship, but there is lots and lots of introspection while they mull things over.

I have to say I was distanced even further by a very bad case of name-brand-itis. I can see where maybe we need to know what kind of perfume Clare uses, and what she drives, and maybe even which designer sunglasses she wears, but that she washes her dishes with “lemon fresh Joy”? The brand name of her birth control patch? It was incessant, and it started to feel as though the author was getting characterization confused with product placement.

None of this matters, however, when Clare and Sebastian are together. Whether you like them or not, they have great, energetic chemistry that leaps off the page – and, really, what else are we reading romance for? I’ll take great chemistry over plot any day.

-- Judi McKee


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