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The Trouble with Valentine's Day
by Rachel Gibson
(Avon, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-000926-8
***
Kate Hamilton, a Las Vegas private investigator, has had enough of her job. A successful search for a missing wife left a family dead by the husbandís hand, and while Kate knows she couldnít have known the man was unstable, she still carries the guilt. A visit to her grandfather, who runs a grocery in the small town of Gospel, Idaho, seems like a good way to make a break.

Bad weather enroute strands Kate in Sun Valley on Valentine's Day. While sitting in a ski-resort bar, contemplating her lack of any kind of sex life, let alone love life, an intriguing man sits down next to her. Kate impulsively throws caution to the wind and suggests they retire to her room. To her embarrassment, the man stalks out after a cutting remark.

Kate continues on to Gospel, only to find that her mystery man is none other than a local businessman, Rob Sutter, who owns a sporting goods/outfitter store across the street from her grandpaís place. Rob has his own demons to wrestle with. He was a high-profile hockey player with a wife and child, having married his pregnant girlfriend, until the night he picked up a woman in a bar while on a road trip and took her back to his hotel room for a night of meaningless sex. When the woman showed up in Seattle several weeks later to find Rob, it was to exact revenge Ė with a gun. Shot in the chest and knee, Rob nearly died, and his career ended. Soon after, so did his marriage. Now he lives in Idaho, and his two-year-old daughter lives in Seattle with his ex.

Kate is humiliated when Rob recognizes her. Rob, who wants no entanglements and hasnít slept with a woman since he was shot, finds her attitude snippy but her body hot. Soon heís in a testosterone-induced frenzy and all he can think about is sex with Kate. Kate resolves to stay away from Rob. After all, she has her hands full trying to nudge her grandfather out of the funk heís been in since her grandmother died. And Rob infuriates her, anyway.

Rachel Gibson has always been a reliable author for me, and it was a disappointment that The Trouble With Valentine's Day lacks her usual sparkle. Itís not a bad story, but much of it is told in a flat, uninvolving narrative that simply describes what everyone is doing at the moment. Kate and Rob circle each other warily, each believing the worst. She thinks heís labeled her a drunk and a slut. He thinks sheís spreading rumors that heís gay. Yet they both want to jump each other.

And that, I think, is the heart of why this romance didnít really satisfy. With Rob and Kate, itís all about sex. At the end of the story, they are convinced they love one another, but for the life of me, I couldnít see why. Rob barely has two thoughts about Kate that arenít related to how she looks or would feel in bed. Kate waffles between ďHeís awfulĒ and ďI want himĒ. One scene in a bar and one scene of fly-fishing werenít enough to convince me this couple had any kind of emotional connection.

Rob is one of the few heroes in recent memory that I really didnít care for, and usually sports types suit me just fine. Maybe it was the slight aura of martyrdom that hung over him. Maybe it was the soul patch (which is right up there with muttonchop whiskers and Elvis sideburns in the my Stupid Male Facial Hair Hall of Fame). Whatever it was, I just couldnít warm up to him. Kate, on the other hand, was quite believable as a woman who has never been able to find a long-lasting relationship and isnít willing to take a chance on being burned again. I liked her, a lot. It just didnít seem like Rob was the guy to shake her out of it.

The secondary characters are typical small-town types. Robís mother is a nurse at the clinic and a potential love interest for Kateís grandpa. The rest of the women are gossips. One amusing thread involves a local poetry society, where the women gather to read their latest efforts, which are uniformly awful.

The Trouble With Valentine's Day isnít a bad read, itís just unmemorable and rather dark. The witty dialogue and strong doses of humor that usually punctuate Ms. Gibsonís novels are absent here. Devoted fans may want to pick this one up, but for others who havenít tried her novels yet, this probably isnít the place to start.

--Cathy Sova


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