Absolute Trouble

All Night Long

A Great Catch by Michelle Jerott
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-81316-5
After reading Michelle Jerott's third novel, I have to wonder why there aren't more good contemporary romances out there. She makes it look easy. Take two people who belong together, throw in some conflict, and watch them try to work out their problems. Eschew any and all Big Misunderstandings or other infantile behavior. Add a pinch of danger, and voila - you have a 4-heart romance.

A Great Catch starts in the middle of a memorable scene. Tessa Jardine is the First Mate of a newly-christened Great Lakes cruise ship. She has worked hard to reach her position in a sexist, male-dominated business. The last thing she wants to be doing is posing for publicity photos taken by an obnoxious photographer who keeps calling her "cute." And even worse, she is forced to pose with the ship's Captain, Lucas Hall, who just happens to be the same man who dumped her without a word ten years ago. What makes the photo shoot even more uncomfortable is the fact that two years ago Lucas was involved in a failed Coast Guard rescue mission that resulted in the death of Tessa's youngest brother, Matt.

This first scene neatly presents the novel's hero and heroine, explaining the conflict in a poignant but also humorous way. Also introduced in the scene is the cruise ship's owner, Dee Stanhope, otherwise known as the Pink Widow. Dee doesn't mind that the reporters immediately make the link between Lucas, Tessa, and the two-year old tragedy, but she does mind that Tessa is young and attractive. Stay away from Lucas, she conveys in no uncertain terms to Tessa, or your job is history.

Throughout the novel, Tessa and Lucas wrestle with a powerful attraction and a myriad of unresolved issues. There are a lot of factors stacked up against them, starting with Tessa's feelings about her brother's death. She's not sure she can forgive Lucas, even though a review board ruled out any culpability on his part. She also doesn't know if having an affair with him is worth risking the career she has struggled so hard to build. Then there's the matter of his walking out on her all those years ago. Lucas, too, has his demons, starting with his guilt over Matt's death. Also, he is afraid that if Tessa learns the truth about why this job is so important to him, she'll either pity or condemn him.

A Great Catch works because Tessa and Lucas are decent, honorable characters who talk about their problems and gradually try to overcome all of the challenges. They're strong-willed but not overly proud. Their chemistry is palpable, but their shared love for shipping - and their reluctance to give up their rewarding but hectic careers - makes their happily-ever-after even more believable. They realize that yes, they missed the mind-blowing sex of ten years ago, but they also missed the friendship.

Give Ms. Jerott extra points for giving Tessa a past that she doesn't have to apologize for or explain away. Since Lucas left her, she has had several relationships. Unlike innumerable melodramatic, unrealistic heroines who pine away without their man, Tessa has actually had sex in the past ten years, and sometimes she actually liked it! Also give Ms. Jerott credit for creating a fascinating Other Woman who is both more and less than what she seems. You don't ever grow to like Dee Stanhope, but by the novel's conclusion, you understand her. She's no cardboard villain.

With a dramatic climax and a sweet resolution, A Great Catch did a great job at meeting all my requirements for a satisfying contemporary romance. In just a few short years, Jerott has already established herself as a top-notch author. Catch her now and you'll be hooked.

--Susan Scribner

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