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Undercover Groom
by Merline Lovelace
(Silh. Desire # 1220, $3.75, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-76220-8
***
Finally, the mystery behind the strange engagement between Chloe Fortune and Mason Chandler is revealed. In the past few books in the Fortune's Children series, we have discovered that all is not well between this seemingly perfectly matched couple. After getting engaged, there was no hurry to marry and when the time came to plan the wedding, Chloe seemed distracted and distressed.

Now, we Fortune Children's fanatics know the truth. The engagement was a sham! Chloe, desperate to escape from the matchmaking machinations of her overly protective father, had proposed an "engagement of convenience" to her brother's best friend. But the best laid plans and all that. Not only were arrangements for an elaborate wedding moving ahead, but Chloe had fallen in love with her pretend fiancÚ!

Finally, a determined Chloe decides to clear the air. She visits Mason's office only to overhear another woman talking intimately to the man she loves. So Chloe ups and leaves Minneapolis, simply disappearing in thin air.

A desperate Mason (who has always loved Chloe and accepted the sham engagement just so he could woo the lady) calls on his secret expertise to find the missing woman. It turns out that Mason is more than just a business executive. He is also a secret operative, called on to undertake some very dicey missions for the government. The woman in his office was his onetime associate, trying to convince Mason not to give up his undercover life as he planned to do once he married.

Chloe's car is discovered in a ravine, but no Chloe. Where could she be? It turns out that she is suffering from amnesia and has sought refuge in the little town of Crockett, North Dakota. Mason arrives in Crockett, but, on the advice of a specialist, he does not immediately inform Chloe of her true identity. Rather he makes a place for himself in her life, waiting for her to gradually recognize him and slowly recover her past.

Unfortunately, a ghost from Mason's past appears to threaten both Chloe and Mason, leading to an exciting conclusion.

Undercover Groom is thus a mix of three tried and true romance plots: marriage (OK, engagement) of convenience, amnesia and secret agent with secret past. Lovelace does a competent job of interweaving the three strands. She also creates a good cast of secondary characters, both the townspeople of Crockett and Mason's fellow operatives.

I suppose that my somewhat less than enthusiastic response to Undercover Groom may be the result of the predictable plot. This may have less to do with the author's storytelling talent and more with her need to write the story that would bring this particular installment of the Fortune's Children saga to an end. Unfortunately, this concluding episode seemed just a wee bit pedestrian.

Still, devotees of this ongoing soap opera will undoubtedly want to read this book. It does tie things up rather nicely. Now, what are we going to do without our latest Fortune's Children fix? Wait, is it true what I hear? That another Fortune relative with lots of children living in Texas has been discovered? I wouldn't be surprised.

--Jean Mason


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