Tall, Dark & Cranky by Kate Little
(Silh. Desire #1422, $3.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-76422-7
The profound insight of Tall, Dark & Cranky will no doubt appeal to recent Psych 101 graduates. Everyone else will just feel patronized.

Grant Berringer is wheelchair-bound after the car wreck that killed his pregnant fiancée. Since then his self-pity and verbal abuse have driven off several physiotherapists. His problem isn’t just physical, you see. Although he can’t remember anything about the accident, he knows he’s to blame. It’s not the bum leg keeping him in the chair; it’s the weight of all that guilt.

Desperate to help, Grant’s brother Matthew wants to hire physiotherapist Rebecca Calloway. Divorcée Rebecca has a six-year-old daughter, a reputation as a “miracle worker,” and degrees in both psychology and physiotherapy. She’s also badly in need of the job, which is live-in, because she’s losing her apartment.

Rebecca, who has an “irrepressible need to be honest,” refuses to promise Matthew a miracle because, in spite of the vast Berringer wealth, “no one can snap their fingers and give your brother the will to fight his way back. He has to want it. He has to want it very badly.”

This startling insight inspires Matthew to introduce Rebecca to his brother in spite of its pessimism. They find Grant resting in his dark room, and the fact that he would rather take a nap than be outside on such a gorgeous day instantly tells Rebecca that this man’s depression is so profound that even she may not be able to reach him.

At first sight of the ruggedly handsome patient, however, Rebecca finds herself moved by the “inexplicable urge to restore him, physically and spiritually” with her “abundant strength and will.” Rebecca is astonished. She has never had this reaction to a patient before. Could she be attracted to him? No, no, that would be unprofessional.

Rebecca flings open the curtains and wheels Grant out onto the sunny balcony, where he makes a crack about her pushing him off. Rebecca realizes immediately that the joke came from “a deep, frightening place” and that Grant has considered suicide, perhaps by this very method. She recites some platitudes about being happy to be alive and finds herself employed.

Then she shows up with her six-year-old daughter. Grant throws a fit. He killed his own unborn baby; how dare anyone torture him by bringing a child into his presence? Rebecca, little Nora and Eloise the cat must go, first thing in the morning. In the morning, however, it seems Eloise has wandered into Grant’s rooms.

Rebecca must remove the cat instantly, of course, but the only thing she can find to wear over her short pink slip of a nightie is a short pink robe. Thus armored she toddles off to Grant’s room to retrieve the cat and before you can say “here, Kitty, Kitty” they’ve got their tongues in each other’s mouths and Rebecca has her job back.

Things go on more or less in this vein, with Grant conveniently dropping his refusal to exercise so he can worry about more important things. Like the fact that he cannot let himself fall in love with Rebecca because he is “hideously scarred inside, a monster no woman could ever really love.”

Having persuaded Grant to do his physical therapy, Rebecca is now free to obsess about the fact that Grant’s attentions to her are probably just the result of his need to feel that he’s still attractive to women, and how becoming involved with a patient is unethical, even predatory. This self-analysis does not stop her from ogling his muscles, wearing skimpy clothes and giving in to the yearning to know what it’s like to be held by him, just for starters.

“Rebecca knew that any woman with half a brain and an ounce of experience would be wary of losing her heart to a man who carried such a burden.”

The same woman will probably pass on this book.

--Judi McKee

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