Father Figure by Leandra Logan
(Harl. American #732, $3.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-16732-6
***
Rose Fraser is a young widow raising her five-year-old son with the help of her two aunts. Deciding the son, Lucas, needs a male influence in his life, Rose puts an ad in the newspaper for a "father figure" to spend a summer with him. Rose doesn't have a lot of money, so she plans to compensate the father figure with room and board in her home, which she shares with the two aunts. She's envisioning a college student.

What she's not envisioning is her late husband's brother, Charles. But it would have been difficult to envision him, since she's never met him. When Rose got married, her husband's wealthy father disowned him, so she's not on the best of terms with the Fraser side of the family.

But her husband's father, Hilton, never got over the loss of his favorite son, so he decides to send his not-so-favorite son, Charles, on a mission. Charles' job is to get the father figure job, spy on the family, and gather evidence of their disreputable child-rearing methods so that Hilton can sue for sole custody of Lucas.

Charles is less than thrilled about this assignment it's dishonest and rather slimy, and besides, it takes him away from his high-powered job as an ad executive in his father's company. Since the job is basically the only thing that gives Charles' lonely life meaning, he's reluctant to take time away from it. But he's got that dad-loved-my-brother-best thing going on, so, trying as always to gain his father's approval, he agrees.

What we've got here is an interesting set-up. Charles, of course, finds Rose and her family to be warm, fun, and only a little loony i.e. they're vegetarians, they don't wear bras, and one of the aunts enjoys painting portraits of nude men. The ex-hippie aunts, in particular, are a little off-putting to staid, traditional Charles, but he learns to cope. And he finds Rose to be a kind, softly feminine, all-around interesting woman. (His dead brother's wife? I know, but Logan manages to handle it without any weird ickyness.)

For her part, Rose, who hasn't met a man she really likes since her husband's death, finds herself drawn to Charles. He's sexy, smart, and great with her son. What more could she want? Charles does enjoy spending time with Lucas, and a bond grows quickly between them. In fact, between Lucas, the aunts, the cozy home atmosphere, the friendly suburban neighborhood, and especially Rose, Charles can't remember being happier. But what will Rose think when she finds out his real identity?

This book was a slow starter for me. The first fifty pages or so contain more scenes between Charles and his father than between Charles and Rose, and the father was unpleasant enough that I would rather have been reading about something else. What's more, the initial overwhelming attraction between Charles and Rose seemed a little forced, maybe because they weren't spending much time together. But the more they interacted as the book went on, the more I came to believe they were right for each other. And I read the last two-thirds of the book in one enjoyable sitting, so it clearly held my interest.

Overall, Father Figure was an entertaining book. I didn't feel particularly attached to the characters, but they were pleasant enough that I didn't mind spending time with them, and the plot held together well, with some interesting twists. And if I didn't close the book with a sigh of pure enjoyment, at least I closed it with a nod of satisfaction.

---- Ellen Hestand


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