Duets 17

Too Smart for Marriage

Harlequin Duets 48 by Cathie Linz & Jane Sullivan
(Harlequin Duets #48, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-44114-2
Duets 48 features stories about matchmaking gone awry. If Cinderella's fairy godmother had been in charge of these two stories, we might have gotten to the HEA sooner, but I doubt it would have been as entertaining.

After telling a few people about the heroine in Between the Covers, I could pretty much predict that they would grin, let what I'd told them sink in and then groan. And why not? The heroine's name is Paige Turner and she's a . . . librarian! How long can humor be sustained on that bit of silliness? How seriously could you take a book featuring a genetic scientist named Gene Poole? What if our heroine were paired up with an inept lion tamer, Claude Balls? Cathie Linz' not-so-subtle attempt at levity threw me off track every time Paige's whole name was mentioned. I like witty, wry humor rather than the ‘rub your face in it' humor, subtlety rather than slapstick.

Between the Covers features a marriage of convenience. Paige Turner . . . geez, it hurts to say that . . . anyway, Paige gets an odd request from hunky cop Shane Huntington. He needs her help in finding the perfect wife. Shane really doesn't want to get married, but a million dollars is at stake. According to his grandfather's will, if Shane marries the ‘right' woman before his thirtieth birthday he'll inherit the money.

Shane's one of the good guys. Rather than following in his father and grandfather's footsteps and becoming a proctologist (Aren't we glad that his name doesn't match his occupation?), he left his wealthy family years before and doesn't want the money for himself. It's earmarked for his favorite charity. But to get the money, Shane has to marry a woman that his grandfather's attorneys deem acceptable. Paige agrees to help him and has to squelch any romantic feelings she has for him.

After several less than successful dates with other women, Shane discovers that Paige fits all of the lawyer's requirements. The story becomes more interesting as Paige throws off her beige, librarian persona, and Shane realizes that there's more to Paige than meets the eye. And does Paige ultimately turn out to be the perfect woman? That's like asking if Dorothy's ruby slippers were red.

Putting my grousing aside about the name, Shane and Paige are engaging characters. Their wedding ceremony is filled with memorable scenes and imbued with images that evoke warm fuzzy feelings, that first warm, sunny day of spring.

Jane Sullivan's The Matchmaker's Mistake features Mark McAlister, an accountant who's evaluating his chances for becoming a partner in his firm. He decides that he needs a woman who'll be an asset to his career. He picks a likely candidate at an upscale bar and reasons that she's everything he needs to impress the staid partners. She's haughty, chic and bandbox perfect. But she's ignoring him.

Liz Prescott is a bartender who's sorry for the geeky guy who's getting NOWHERE in a hurry with Ms. Ice Queen. Liz, who's a gregarious type and is studying for her degree in psychology, decides to take this guy under her wing. Liz encourages him to shed his reserved, proper image and concludes that redoing the outer man will boost his confidence so much that he can get any woman he wants. The package is good; he's just got to learn to make the most of it.

A stylish haircut and a snazzy new wardrobe work wonders for the man. While he appreciates Liz's help and really likes this refreshingly open young woman, she's just a bit too oddball for him, a far cry from his vision of a woman who'll enhance his professional life. Mark comments that her thinking is so far outside the box that no force in the universe could stuff her back in. Much as he likes her, he just can't see that she'll enhance his career.

Their shopping trip for Mark's new wardrobe is one glowing highlight and is punctuated by Mark's self-deprecating humor. He teases Liz that he'll need the paramedics when he opens his credit card bill. With his new clothes, Ms. Ice Queen does notice him. Now he thinks his life is going to fall into place. Geez, men can be dense at times.

Mark's secretary Tina is a treasure. She's irreverent, especially when she calls the CEO's hairpiece a weasel and wonders if he suffers from a genetic trait that she deems "Hairus Hideousus."

Liz is a delight, a combination of common sense and joie de vivre. She's level-headed, sensitive, kind, an ordinary woman with an extraordinary amount of goodness. Mark, when he finally learns to recognize the wheat from the chaff, becomes a hero to equal this marvelous heroine.

On the strength of Jane Sullivan's The Matchmaker's Mistake, I've got to recommend Duets 48. It's got everything that a romance needs to make it a fun, lively read, one that may evoke grins or chuckles. Ms. Sullivan gives us a well-written story, one with credibility, realism and sparkling characters that make it a joy to read. And after I quit grimacing about that librarian's name, I enjoyed Between the Covers.

Duets 48 is a sparkling endorsement for this line of romantic comedies.

--Linda Mowery

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