Her Holiday Secret
by Jennifer Greene
(Silh. Desire #1178, $3.75, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-76178-3
****
Most of us have automatic buy authors. We see those certain names on the cover and BAM, a sale. I only have a few auto-buy authors; Jennifer Greene is one. Jeanne Grant, when she was writing, was one, too. One day I discovered that these pen names belong to the same person: Alison Hart. I now buy her books no matter what name she's using. I'm not the only one who sings her praises. She's won the prestigious RITA award, the highest award of excellence in the Romance genre, for the Best Short Contemporary Books category.

Maggie Fletcher awakens in the hospital, the victim of a drunk driving accident. Apart from minor aches and pains, she's fine, except that she can't remember the previous twenty-four hours. Andy Gautier, the local sheriff, stops in to see her before he begins the accident paperwork. She quizzes him at length about the accident. Was she responsible? Were people hurt? She's got a bad feeling about those missing twenty-four hours, a foreboding so overwhelming that she's certain she's done something really wrong, something that may even have been criminal.

Andy is enchanted with Maggie, who's so unlike his first wife. Maggie is mature, accepting when his job keeps him away, funny, sweet, and he's so attracted to her sexually that taking his time, building the relationship and going slow is hard, no pun intended. Maggie is equally attracted to Andy, but wonders when he's going to be irritated with her strong streak of independence and her competency, two attributes she's quite proud of. These two factors have ruined other relationships for her.

The missing twenty-four hours become a major problem for Maggie. That lost time is causing her nightmares and plaguing her during the day. She's so concerned that she even sees a doctor about it. When she calls a premature halt to Andy's lovemaking the first time, citing her concern that she may have done something in those missing hours which is heinous, Andy mistakes her intentions, thinking that she's brushing him off. Nope, she's really concerned. What did happen? What is her holiday secret?

An interesting secondary plot which ultimately wraps up the whole book quite nicely is that of Maggie's sister, Joanna, a recent widow. Joanna is Maggie's anthesis. Without her husband to rely on, she's floundering emotionally. Maggie often steps in when repairs are needed, when Joanna's two sons need help, when a situation occurs which looks as though it may bowl Joanna over. At one point, Andy speculates that Maggie is enabling Joanna to remain weak and helpless. As in most stories and in real life, knowing that fact still doesn't change behavior. It's tough to stand by and do nothing when someone we love needs help. This entire issue is handled with sensitivity and maturity.

Jennifer Greene's writing is unmistakable. She writes with a gentleness, a warmth which permeates her characters. I don't think I've ever read a story of hers with a weak character, only everyday people coping the best they can. Yes, there are frequently problems, but nothing outlandish or 'weird.' Her dialog in lighter moments is often affectionate banter, conversations which are fun to eavesdrop on. Right after the accident, when Maggie meets Andy for the first time and knows she's bruised from head to toe, she blurts out, "Cripes, I have to look like something a cat dragged home from an alley." You'd have to be a grouch not to smile at Andy's reply. "If my cat'd dragged you home, he'd be in tuna for the rest of his life." At $1.49 a can, that's quite an accolade.

If you need a picker-upper in this holiday season, treat yourself to Her Holiday Secret. I just wish I'd had a fire going. It's that kind of feel-good book.

--Linda Mowery


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