Body Check

Fair Play

Total Rush by Deirdre Martin
(Berkley, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-20152-4
This book has a lot of really good things going for it. Unfortunately, the fact that the hero and heroine spend most of the second half of it apart is not one of them.

Gemma Dante owns a New Age shop in New York’s Greenwich Village and practices witchcraft as “a path centered around the reverence for nature.” Unfortunately, just the idea of witchcraft is anathema to Gemma’s devoutly Catholic mother and many members of her large Italian family.

She is on good terms with her cousin, Michael, a hockey player with the Blades. When Michael sets her up on a blind date with a teammate whose conversational skills run to screwdrivers and gum, Gemma decides it’s time to break her own rule and cast a little love spell for herself.

In short order, two guys show up. The first, a computer geek calling himself Uther Abramowitz, shows up at her store looking for tarot lessons. He’s an “odd duck” who obviously uses his Craft name in everyday life and speaks in annoying fake-medieval ‘poesy,’ so Gemma, deep soul that she is, can’t bear to think that he might be the man who’s been sent in response to her spell.

Much more to her taste is the blue-eyed hunk of a fireman who shows up saying that someone reported a fire in her apartment thanks to the smokey, noxious-smelling incense she burns when meditating. It seems even clearer that the hand of Fate might be at work when Gemma sees Sean again, at a benefit hockey game, and then again at the christening of Mike’s daughter.

Turns out that Sean lives in the apartment above Gemma, and he hates the incense. She forgives him when he leaves her a menagerie of stuffed animals to apologize, and the two give in to their powerful attraction and spend the night together. Which is when the rather conservative Sean finds about Gemma’s ‘odd’ beliefs.

As I said, this book has some very strong elements. It may be the only romance I’ve ever read that dealt so realistically with the difficulties that ensue when two characters jump into bed together for amazing sex, only to realize that they have almost nothing else in common. Gemma, purely on the basis of her spell, quickly decided that Sean was her soul mate, so, naturally, was very hurt when he bailed immediately after finding out she was a witch.

She thinks his friends are rude, narrow-minded jerks (well, they pretty much are) and he thinks her friends are shallow posers (um, ditto). He’s embarrassed by just about everything about her (in addition to being a witch, she dresses flamboyantly and is a vegetarian), and she’s upset because he’s the big, strong macho type who refuses to talk about his feelings. All of this is conveyed by the author with convincing honesty and energy.

She did not convince me, however, that these two had the maturity and resources to overcome all these obstacles and develop an adult, lasting relationship that was based on more than physical attraction. This is exacerbated by the fact that Sean and Gemma break up about halfway through the book. Gemma immediately gets caught up in a family crisis, Sean has a work crisis, and, while it’s all very well written, the relationship goes on hiatus. They go their separate ways to get their heads together – but they don’t solve their problems together. They’re not learning to appreciate each other’s strengths as well as adjusting to each other’s weaknesses. And they don’t help each other – they’re still isolated from each other in their own lives.

As a result, when the author waves her magic wand and everybody miraculously becomes open-minded and accepting at the end, I don’t believe it. I don’t believe that Gemma and Sean’s relationship is going to survive the next contact with their real lives.

I’m not reading this story to find out how Gemma resolves her problems with her mother (as involving as that was). I’m here to find out how she resolves her problems with Sean – and, in my opinion, she never did.

Which made it tough to believe in the romance.

-- Judi McKee

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