The Girl Most Likely To…
by Dorien Kelly
(Harl. Tempt. #922, $4.25, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-69122-X
***
Imagine you’re watching a movie. Everything about it is predictable but you’re enjoying it anyway. Then you find that the last ten minutes are missing because, well, you knew what was going to happen anyway, right? That’s how I felt when I reached the end of this book.

Dana Devine is still living down her youthful bad-girl reputation. A self-described late-blooming workaholic, she’s been working really hard to turn her hair salon into a luxurious day spa.

She’s had nothing but time to achieve her goal in the six months since her divorce from Mike, after the cheating little con man left Dana for a woman with more disposable assets. But the new woman dumped him and now Mike’s back, wanting Dana to give him money and pick up where they left off. The miserable experience has caused Dana, like countless legions of romance heroines before her, to swear off love forever.

That’s one of the reasons she’s annoyed when her best friend, Hallie, tries repeatedly to set Dana up with Hallie’s big brother, Cal. Another is that Cal was the young cop who caught her in many of the ill-considered exploits of her misspent youth, and who now wants to be the next police chief of Sandy Bend. He’s extremely attractive, but she knows that just speaking to someone with her reputation would erase all his years of hard work and faithful service, destroying any chance he has of being appointed chief.

Hallie’s machinations do get Cal and Dana together for one amazing night but when Hallie throws him out the next morning Cal figures he doesn’t need a little troublemaker who’d just use him for sex. Unfortunately, someone seems determined to see Dana’s business fail before it gets off the ground, and it’s Cal’s job to find the culprit. Spending time with Dana and seeing her more vulnerable side convinces him that they need to spend more time together.

Although written in an engaging, energetic style that kept the pages turning, this book had two problems that prevent me from recommending it. First of all, all the motivations are straight out of the Romance Handbook and events transpire without a single surprise. The relationship between Dana and Cal doesn’t evolve, it follows a map that practically has a big arrow pointing to the treasure at the end. As well, everybody knows who the bad guy is; there isn’t any mystery, just a transparent plot device to get Cal and Dana together.

When they do give in to their feelings, Dana and Cal generate quite a bit of sizzle. To her credit, the author manages this in spite of the fact that these are not exactly multi-dimensional characters. On the other hand, she also stops and starts some of the love scenes in an odd, disjointed way, as if she turned the heat up to a certain level and then chickened out.

Even more problematic, however, were all the loose ends. Dana’s mother was a witch with a capital B, apparently just to reinforce Dana’s feelings of inadequacy. We’re told she was carrying a grudge for Dana’s embarrassing teenaged misbehavior, but the woman was so virulently malicious that this explanation seemed completely inadequate.

Likewise, Cal’s campaign to become police chief was necessary to the plot just as an excuse for Dana to keep pushing him away. The story spent a lot of time on it, only to leave it hanging. I’m willing to believe that he became Chief. I’m also willing to believe that Dana got her spa built. But to ask the reader to get invested in these issues and then leave them unresolved made the book feel incomplete.

The astonishing abruptness of the book’s conclusion just compounded the frustration. After 214 pages of a nice, brisk but unhurried pace, the story wraps up in a very terse page and a half. It was like having a door slammed in your face as you neared the end of what you thought was a friendly conversation.

The title of the book is an unfinished sentence. Frankly, the story felt that way, too.

-- Judi McKee


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