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Father Found

First Born Son

Gift-Wrapped Dad

The Hunk & the Virgin

Man with a Miracle

 
The Man Under the Mistletoe
by Muriel Jensen
(Harl. Super. # 1246, $5.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-71246-4
**
Muriel Jensen serves up a large helping of Christmas turkey with this story of an estranged couple reuniting over the backdrop of a holiday wedding. Too bad the heroine is an unbearable pill from page one. Itís not much of a romance when the reader spends most of the book wondering why on earth the hero isnít running as fast as he can in the other direction.

Rosie DeMarco is the owner of a floundering bridal salon in Maple Hill, Massachusetts. Sheís been estranged from her husband, Matt, for two years, ever since her brother died, her father committed suicide, and Rosie suffered a miscarriage. After six months of wallowing in her own isolation and grief, refusing to let Matt near her or even talk to him, Rosie told Matt to get lost, which he did Ė moving across the country to take a job as a photographer with a Sacramento newspaper. Now Rosieís sister is about to be married, and to her horror, Francie has asked Matt to give her away.

Rosieís mother is emotionally distant, and her late father made no secret that he preferred her brother over Rosie and her sister. The one bright spot in Rosieís life is her eight-year-old nephew, Chase, who now lives with Rosieís mother. Chase, however, adores Matt and is thrilled to have him around. Rosie reacts by sniping at him and acting haughty and injured from the moment Matt steps back into the picture.

Matt left Rosie after six months of isolation, figuring that heíd leave her to deal with her grief on her own, since she preferred it, and someday heíd come back and try to win her again. This line of reasoning didnít work, as heís been gone two years, has had no contact with her, and apparently had no plans to come back were it not for the wedding. Just exactly when was he going to attempt this reconciliation, anyway?

Matt tries to get Rosie to open up to him, she acts like a spitting cat, and the author throws in a series of threats of Rosieís life to keep the plot moving and give Matt a reason to hang around. It didnít work. Matt knows something about Rosieís late father, something that heís kept a secret, not wanting to upset her further. Upset her further? Since sheís about as far gone as a female can get short of sticking a knife in his back, this didnít pan out. Frankly, after half a book of Rosie, I really, REALLY wanted Matt to head back to California, preferably with divorce papers in his hand.

Rosie is up for nomination in the Most Obnoxious Heroine of 2004 category, and believe me, thatís running against some stiff competition. Iím not trying to diminish the pain any woman would feel after losing a child. But in Rosieís case, itís All About Her, and she gives no thought whatsoever to the pain her husband must have felt as well. And six months of shutting him out completely? This woman needed serious counseling to help her deal with her grief. When he does reappear, she continues to snipe and bitch at him for two-thirds of the book, whereupon we witness a change as Rosie finally admits whatís behind all the hostility. Once again, itís All About Rosie, and instead of poignancy, it just feels incredibly immature and self-absorbed.

One note of unintentional hilarity was injected into the story by the sloppy copy-editing, which had Rosieís father dying in a ďgrizzlyĒ accident, for instance. I figured it probably wasnít a bear attack, since the story took place in Massachusetts.

The suspense subplot drags out and isnít interesting enough to carry the story. Neither is Matt, the far-too-decent hero who deserved a much better heroine. The Man Under the Mistletoe is a disappointing addition to Muriel Jensenís repertoire, and is nowhere near her usual fine work. Letís hope she regains her form with her next release.

--Cathy Sova


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