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

The Marcelli Bride by Susan Mallery
(Pocket Star, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-7434-9957-3
In The Marcelli Bride, the fourth book about the Marcelli family, Susan Mallery has come close to a keeper. However I had a few too many niggles of unease to push it over into that category. However, it is an engaging suspense/romance with the emphasis on romance.

Joe Larson is a true Marcelli and eldest son. However, he was conceived out of wedlock at a time when that was not acceptable. Marco and Colleen gave him up for adoption at the insistence of Marcoís father, Lorenzo. Three years ago, they found Joe and welcomed him to the family. Unfortunately, Joeís adoptive parents died when he was young and he spent most of his life in the foster care system. He is struggling with his feelings about the Marcellis and is reluctant to embrace them and join their family of winemakers in California. Joe is a Navy SEAL and has his sights set higher in the ranks. When he and his men bungle an assignment, which causes an accident involving the Adminralís ship, Joe is given an assignment he isnít crazy about. He is assigned to return to the Marcellis and be a liaison between the Secret Service and his family. You see, the Secret Service has decided the Marcelli estate would be the perfect place to hide the Presidentís daughter for a while.

Darcy Jensen is the ďother sister.Ē She is not the darling that her sister Lauren is. Lauren got married and then lost her husband in a car accident. Lauren is pretty and blond, loves to work the crowds and often does things for charity. Darcy is the second daughter. She is still reeling from her motherís death a few years back and has not been close to her dad for a few years. She isnít afraid to say what she thinks and the press has painted her as bratty and stubborn. She often wears black. She is a graphic artist and marketing specialist, but she canít get a job because everyone believes the press about her. To top it off, she just got kidnapped when her secret service team screwed up, and then the kidnappers brought her back because they were after Lauren, not her. She is feeling a bit sorry for herself.

Darcy and Joe meet and are a perfect blend. They are immediately attracted and the sparks fly, despite both of their realizations of who they are. But it is hard to stay out of the way when they are at the estate and all the Marcellis are constantly throwing them together. There are the parents, Marco and Colleen, who married a few years after giving Joe away. They have four lovely daughters, who all make an appearance with their spouses and children. The grandparents, Tessa and Lorenzo, are still in the picture and the maternal grandmother pops in too.

This is an epic story about family, love and self-discovery. There is danger yet it is peripheral until the climax. Joe and Darcy are hot together and heat up the pages. There is also a secondary romance between secret service agents that is cute. Joe is a strong hero. He is gruff and very military, yet he wants to love and finds Darcy getting him to see things differently, even if he doesnít want to see them. Darcy shines under the love and attention of the large Marcelli family. She finds that she second-guesses her feelings about her father and sister and this opens her eyes to family and what they could mean to her.

Much information is given about wine making and how this gets into a familyís blood. It is educational without being boring, and helps bring the sense of family to the tale while adding to Joeís inner struggle about whether he really belongs here. The suspense is saved until the end and came out of the blue. It was well written and engaging with lots of action.

However, the beginning story of the kidnapping was a tad far-fetched. What self-respecting terrorist would return the victim if they got the wrong one? They didnít know Darcy didnít see herself as valued by her dad, so their actions seemed out of character. However, it set up the tale for the story, so it is easy to let go.

The most disquieting thing was how easily Joe and Darcy accepted their willingness to sleep with each other given the circumstances. Joe is a dedicated Navy officer and yet he has sex with the Presidentís daughter with no remorse. At the time, he wasnít thinking this would be a long-term relationship, either. And the Secret Service team turns their heads. This just didnít seem to ring true. It is a little thing, but with a few other odds and ends, keeps the tale from that lofty keeper status.

The Marcelli Bride is a fun reading experience and would be a good accompaniment to a week at the beach. It was so engaging; I am looking forward to sister Miaís story and will probably hunt the used bookstores for the three previous books about the other Marcelli sisters.

--Shirley Lyons

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