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Secret Daddy by Vivian Lieber
(Harl. American #761, $3.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-16761-X
I've concluded that I need to be in the right frame of mind to read Vivian Leiber's work. If I remain grounded in reality, I find all sorts of things to raise an eyebrow over. If I suspend disbelief, and treat her work the same way I would, say, those carefree Doris Day movies of old, I can enjoy it.

Secret Daddy is the second story in Harlequin's "Gowns of White" trilogy, where three authors tell a story about a christening, a debutante ball and a wedding. According to the promotional material, these are three places where "no one can resist a woman in white."

Corey Harte, Chicago's Most Eligible Bachelor, finds this to be true when he sees Robyn O'Halloran at the cotillion ball. Corey has known Robyn since childhood, as Robyn's mother was the Harte family housekeeper. They last saw one another four years before, when she was 14 and he 21. Back then she was a gangly teen, who didn't even like boys yet.

Corey's widowed father had loved Robyn's mother, and would have married her, had she lived. Upon her death, he took it upon himself to serve as a sort of sponsor for Robyn; sending her to boarding school, and ensuring that she received an invitation to the cotillion, so that she would have "a better chance" in life.

Corey and Robyn's paths cross at the cotillion. She's all grown up, and so lovely. He's so handsome. It's destiny. It's love. They share a glorious night of passion. But there is, of course, a glitch.

Corey is leaving in the morning, to begin four years of rigorous internship as an ER specialist. He knows he will be working 120+ hour weeks, and it would be completely unfair to take Robyn along, when he'd not be able to spend any time with her. He decides to do the "grown-up" thing, and let her go and enjoy life he'll come back for her in four years. Robyn is hurt and angered by this at the time, but later decides it's the sensible thing to do. They part.

When Robyn later finds out she is pregnant, she never tells Corey. They had broken up, after all, and it would disrupt his career plans, be too much of a responsibility, yadda yadda. She goes on to make a life for herself and her son, with the assistance of her Aunt Rose.

Four years later, they meet again. Corey is shocked to learn that he's a father, but eager to meet his son. He's also eager to pursue Robyn, and plans to marry her in a week's time. She's not as eager to be pursued. She has decided to marry a nice, dependable man named Bob McNutt.

Corey's determined to marry Robyn. She's determined that he won't. It's a challenge. He figures he has a week to woo her, before Bob returns from abroad. Let the games begin. Throw in some zany secondary characters, a few misunderstandings, a playboy, a quirky paparazzi reporter, an ambitious caterer, and level headed Aunt Rose, and see what happens.

The secondary characters seemed to fit certain stereotypes. Aunt Rose was solid, dependable, salt-of-the-earth. The paparazzi was a sort of Joe Pesci-type annoying, but with a good heart. Corey's playboy and socialite pals were charming and engaging, but extremely shallow. The wealthy, country-clubtypes were all rather cartoonish, while the lower-class people were given more dignity and depth.

Maybe I'm just too logical, or it's just my plebeian roots showing, but I never did completely buy into the whole "housekeeper's kid makes deb" thing. Nor could I believe many of the actions of the characters. I could do so temporarily, but I kept getting jarred back to reality.

On one level, this was a nice tale, with lighthearted characters and a fun, screwball comedy. It was entertaining. It just wasn't realistic. As a reader, I need to be willing to suspend disbelief far enough to want to get into the story. However, it's the author's responsibility to keep me there, and make me believe in it. Neither of us were completely successful this time.

--Diane Grayson

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