Duets 52 by Jennifer LaBrecque & Sandra Paul
(Harlequin Duets #52, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-44118-5
****
A pattern is beginning to emerge for me as I'm reviewing more and more of the Duets books. There seems to be a theme each month linking the two stories, sometimes subtle and sometimes one that will conk you on the head with its bluntness. This month both heroines suffer from extreme cases of the beige blahs. They're both so drab, so wallpaper innocuous, that they make a polar bear on snow seem colorful.

Well, until they meet the men who'll put color in their cheeks.

Jennifer LaBrecque's contribution has the dopey title of Kids+Cops=Chaos, but it far outshines its title. Detective Sloane Matthews has been given the assignment of infiltrating a suspect's home to find evidence that the guy is guilty of smuggling. The opportunity presents itself when the suspect and his wife leave town and need a new nanny for their three precocious children. Enter Sloane, who's as comfortable around children as a cat is in a room full of dogs.

Jo Calhoun is checking on her nephew and nieces while her sister and brother-in-law are out of the country. It's a good thing, too. She finds the new nanny duct taped to a chair, bare-chested and with a mouth covered by silver tape. Yes, this hunk is the new nanny. At first Jo is bemused by how inept he seems, even though the Nurturing Nannies Network vouches for him.

Sloane only has a week to get into a computer that may hold the answer to all of his questions. But he keeps getting sidetracked, first by the kids and then by Jo, a woman who's growing lovelier and more special the longer Sloane knows her.

Several episodes had me chuckling out loud, and one had me giggling as I imagined the scene. Sloane has the misfortune to be caught several times by his cop buddies. The duct tape episode is buzzing around the station house. When he's pulled over by one of his policeman buddies the next morning for speeding as he tries to get the six-year-old budding Einstein to class, the two young sisters get even with the bad policeman. Know how jelly oozes out of the hole in a jelly donut? Imagine squeezing the donuts just right so that the jelly is a projectile . . . aimed at the bad policeman's shirt. I loved it.

This is one time when the kids really do enhance a story. They're sweet, mischievous and add genuine comic relief. The fact that Sloane is a hunk and sees beneath Jo's reticent exterior makes the story all the better.

Moonstruck by Sandra Paul takes a while to get up to speed, but when it finally does, hang on for a good time. Dee Evans is boring. She's never done one thing in her life that's the least bit serendipitous. When her Casper Milquetoast boyfriend breaks up with her, she knows she's hit rock bottom. Spotting the ex-boyfriend, Dee, acting impulsively on the advice of her girlfriends, moons the creep.

Oops, it isn't the creep she moons, but her boss, hunk extraordinaire Jason Masters. What will incriminate her is that she did the mooning while she and her friends were in the company van. Luckily the boss doesn't recognize the culprit, but the situation really spirals out of her control when Jason puts her in charge of ­um, uncovering the identity of the mooner. Talk about tangled webs.

Dee's transformation from an ugly duckling to magnificent swan is a bit too abrupt to be realistically credible. This is a woman who wouldn't even take one drink on her twenty-first birthday for fearing she'd get out of control. Now she's flirting with the boss, wearing clothes that don't even rate on the conserve-o-meter and dating a competitor to make Jason jealous. These are things that women with spunk might be doing, but for Dee, it just doesn't fit. If Dee hadn't been such a ninny at the beginning, then her swan transformation would have made more sense.

Those quibbles aside, Moonstruck is entertaining. I kept reading to see how Dee would extricate herself. Oh, did I mention she has a distinctive birthmark on her bum?

Duets 52 really is a lot of fun to read, one that I'd call Romance-lite. All of the characters are likable, and all ultimately shed their stuffed shirts . . . and blouses.

--Linda Mowery


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