It is the middle of the summer season in Newport, Rhode Island, and the town is abuzz with speculation about a woman who has set up an 800-number to find a husband. Catherine Carson has no reason to speculate. “She’d placed one ad in the personals section of the newspaper, and the phone rang at all times of the day and night . . .”
Catherine once lived in New York, where she worked her way up from writing promotional copy to news writing for a TV affiliate. She fell in love with and became engaged to a man whom she later discovered was too controlling. It soured Catherine on love and marriage. She hightailed it out of New York and into the bosom of her family in Newport and a job writing shipping brochures there.
When the novel begins, Catherine has concocted an elaborate scheme to escape the tag-team efforts of her mother and sister to marry her off. She figures that if she can convince a man she attracts on the 800-line to marry her for six months, her family would back off. Not just any man, mind you. Catherine has standards: “She wanted a man who was sure of himself; someone she could present to her family and have them believe him and their charade.”
Enter Jerrod Greene. Jerrod’s family was Catherine's parents’ next-door neighbor. He was Catherine’s childhood nemesis and she had been the butt of many of his practical jokes. Despite the teasing, theirs was an unusual friendship. Jerrod is an architect who has been out of the country for five years. After a friend tells him about the 800-number, he calls it and is surprised to hear Catherine’s disguised voice on the line. (No one else in town recognizes the voice as hers.) Jerrod encounters Catherine later that day at a party given by her sister.
Catherine and Jerrod have not seen each other in five years, but she immediately begins sniping. When he confronts her about the 800-number, she reveals the details of her harebrained scheme. Less than 30 minutes later, the life-long antagonists announce their engagement to family and friends. The lies, er, details of their relationship have yet to be worked out. And of course, in all marriages of convenience, there must be rules. Catherine’s is simple. Despite her intense physical attraction to Jerrod, there will be no sex only because she does not want to get pregnant during the six-month marriage.
To Catherine this is just another practical joke. However, Jerrod has acknowledged to himself that he has more than neighborly feelings about Catherine. He also acknowledges that he must be an idiot to go along with her scheme. An “engaged idiot,” he muses. Not one for long engagements, he sets a wedding date just six weeks away. Catherine's sister giddily throws herself into the plans. Jerrod and Catherine’s pretend marriage will begin with a very real wedding and honeymoon trip.
The premise of His 1-800 Wife had potential. It could have been a frothy screwball-type comedy. It isn’t. Despite the incredible chemistry between Catherine and Jerrod, the novel suffers from a low credibility factor and heroine who is self-indulgent and TSTL. There’s nothing wrong with Catherine that trips to a psychiatrist and a gynecologist couldn’t fix. Her treatment of Jerrod literally drove me to distraction and drove him to drink. Ironically, Catherine advises another character not to let a woman trample his feelings.
Jerrod is a hero to die for. Any woman who has planned a wedding knows what an ordeal it is to get a groom to the bridal registry. Jerrod goes willingly, plans surprises to cheer Catherine up, writes haiku and leaves love notes for her every day. By comparison, Catherine simply is not worthy.
The book suffers from continuity and production gaffes as well. The novel was originally titled Her 1-800 Husband. There are instances where the dialogue still reflects that concept and, with the change, the requisite digits for a phone number are among the things that don’t add up. Despite Catherine’s despair over the machinations of her mother and sister to get her married, Catherine’s mother is never a factor in the book. There are also versions, five pages apart, of how Jerrod’s mother received and reacted to the couple’s engagement.
I wanted to like His 1-800-Wife. Jerrod Greene is going on my list of favorite heroes. This romance has flashes of classic Shirley Hailstock. It has the elements of her work that I enjoy: humor, strong chemistry between the main characters, clean prose and strong secondary characters. For me, His 1-800-Wife was a weak three-heart read. For examples of her best work, I'd recommend her stories in the Winter Nights and Island Magic anthologies or her single titles, Opposites Attract and Mirror Image.