Jane Millionaire by Janice Lynn
(Love Spell, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-505-52664-6
***
Reality television is becoming an increasingly frequent backdrop for romance novels. Jane Millionaire is yet another venture which milks the shows and their backstage antiques for a few plot twists.

Jill Davidson is quite happy being a policewoman in a small southern California town. She is more than ready to settle for her partner and best friend, despite the lack of sparks between them. Disappointed when he suggests they remain just friends, she agrees to replace her sister as Jane Millionaire in the reality show of that name.

Ensconced in a castle in some Ruritania-like country, twelve contenders will compete for her hand. After she and her spectators choose the lucky suitor, he will get to decide whether he wants to keep her or her millions. (And no, they don't strike me as balanced alternatives, but best not to ask too many questions.) Jill doesn't expect to fall for any of the bachelors, but she hopes a little flirting will do her battered ego some good. Once she runs into Rob Lancaster, the producer, screenwriter and host of the show, she realizes it's the off-screen attraction she should have been worried about.

The set-up immediately hints at all the roadblocks in Jill and Rob's road to happiness (how could it be otherwise if the rules stipulate they have to keep away from each other?), the impending catastrophe (what else is possible when they are both lying to each other?), and a fair amount of twists and turns (aren't they inevitable with the "she is pretending to be her sister pretending to be a starlet pretending to be an average woman pretending to be a princess line" we must swallow?). With this fairly obvious plot, we need a lot of laughs, some truly original episodes, or several endearing characters to keep us tied to the page. And while the novel has some good moments, it's no slam-dunk of a read.

I'll skip over the all-too-recognizable make-over scenes and the occasional indulgence in purple prose and get right to my biggest gripe: a hero I didn't like. For a street-tough Alpha male, Rob whines too much. About his devious first wife. About wannabe starlets. About women in general. They just can't be trusted. Not even Jill. Especially not Jill. She is going to ruin all his chances to make it big in television. He really must keep away from her. Why can't he keep away from her? (Poor dear. Hold on for a sec while I grab a box of tissues.)

Inevitably, Jill and Rob kiss. He stops chanting his mantra only to replace it with another one: they should forget that ever happened. But of course he can't, and so it goes for a couple of rounds.

Jill and Rob's story is occasionally interrupted by another romantic subplot whose major stumbling block is resolved too quickly. There is more than enough room to answer some of my nagging questions, and there would have been even more if the repetitious main narrative had been pruned more efficiently.

Jill Davidson makes up for some of the shortcomings. She might have been silly to let her sister talk her into taking her place and to believe they can actually get away with it, but that aside she is a likeable, one-of-us type of gal. With a quick turn of word, she puts the sleazy guys in their place. Thanks to her athletic skill, she holds her own on the basketball court. And yet, for all her spunk and her capabilities, she is as insecure about her physical features as the rest of us - but not so much as to be blind to Rob's desire. Indeed, her decision to go after what she wants is a real relief after his never-ending self-flagellation. Too bad she isn't matched up with a more deserving hero. Hopefully, Janice Lynn's future heroines will have better luck.

--Mary Benn


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