Cinderella For a Night

Dream Groom

Living On the Edge

Prince Charming, M. D.

Prodigal Son

Quinn's Woman

The Rancher Next Door

The Sheik's Kidnapped Bride

The Summer House

Sweet Success

The Wedding Ring Promise

Wife in Disguise

Wild West Wife

Irresistible by Susan Mallery
(HQN, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-77117-7
I wonder how such a prolific writer as Susan Mallery keeps track of her different series, connected stories and the multitude of characters they entail. With Irresistible, she focuses again on the Buchanans, owners of several exclusive Seattle dining spots. There isn't much here about the day-to-day of restaurant management, but a lot about the backstage life of the family who runs them.

Walker Buchanan joined the Marines to get away from his overbearing grandmother and to protect himself from further heartbreak. Now a civilian, he has yet to decide what to do. When the family matriarch has a heart attack, he steps in to supervise their restaurant business. Convinced he isn't trustworthy in the long haul, he nevertheless knows how to honor a debt to a fallen comrade and to help his neighbors in times of need.

Elissa Towers is a single mother. Between her waitress job and her fledgling attempts at designing jewelry, she is struggling hard to make ends meet. No time for romance, even if she wanted it. And she definitely doesn't. She's convinced she falls only for losers and has a two-time record to prove it. The first time was when she hit the road at seventeen with a risk-taking rock-star wannabe. The second was when she took up with her daughter's no-good father. A talented musician with a bad drug bad habit, he isn't beyond using his parental rights to extort a little money.

Neither Walker nor Elissa is looking for love. Friends is another thing. But as they swap free dinners for household chores and homemade pies for spare tires, they slowly move from good neighbors to lovers and much more.

With troubled pasts and personal flaws, Walker and Elissa's story could easily veer towards the melodramatic, but there is little heavy- handed angst. Both are capable of picking up their lives and getting on with it. As such, they are well placed to illustrate the novel's theme and moral. No one is perfect, it reminds us time and time again. We have to accept our past mistakes and move on.

This is all nice and good. Yet, Walker and Elissa didn't win me over completely. Her excessive and misplaced anger towards her parents lost her a lot of points. She resents them for eventually giving up looking for her. She thereby overlooks the fact that she ran away from a warm, supportive family. As for Walker, he is a bit too perfect to be credible. Replacing a tire is chivalrous, but I hardly believe that even the best of neighbors would pay for two spares. A battle-worn Marine would probably drive an elderly acquaintance to the hospital (and, like Walker, grouch all the way). But escort a four-year-old kid on a mall spree? I don't think so.

The novel moves at a pleasant, leisurely pace, interspersing the leads' personal quests with the slowly unfolding romantic relationship. It regularly plays with reader's expectations without being too predictable. Hints of things to come kept me turning the pages. If the revelations weren't as dramatic as I was led to expect, they were plausible enough not to be too disappointing.

Several subplots featuring other members of the Buchanan family supplement the main story. Those spotlighted in the previous book have small follow ups. Others have a mini-plot of their own as they wait to feature in their own stories. I doubt they will be any more irresistible than this one. But there is something oddly addictive about following a family's fortune. The upcoming novels are on my to- buy list, but probably not at the very top.

--Mary Benn

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