Foolish Heart

Island Magic

Man of the House

Rhapsody

Rosie's Curl & Weave

Something to Celebrate

 
Forbidden Heart by Felicia Mason
(Arabesque/BET, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-58314-050-6
***
Malicious Mallory Heart is back.

Mallory was introduced in Felicia Mason’s 1998 romance, Foolish Heart, as the backbiting nemesis of that novel’s hero, Coleman Heart. Her relationship with her first cousin is proof positive that blood is not thicker than mud. Mallory was responsible for most of Cole’s many Maalox moments throughout the novel. After engineering the overthrow of Cole’s tenure as CEO of the generations old Heart Department Stores, Mallory headed a family coterie that sold the family-owned chain to a larger retailer.

When Mallory’s reward of a corporate vice-presidency in the new stores never materialized, she cut her losses and took a hefty payoff. With that nest egg, Mallory has worked to create an upscale women’s boutique. Three contractors later, she is close to realizing her dream.

When the novel begins, Ellis Construction is the latest firm in the eye of Hurricane Mallory. A clerical snafu gives Mallory and the construction company two different dates for work on her project to begin. Understandably, she is not pleased. When company owner Ellis Carson visits Mallory at the site to rectify the problem, she mistakenly assumes he is a merely a crew chief. Once work begins on her boutique, she goes as far as to have him dismissed before she learns the truth.

There is a mutual attraction between Ellis and Mallory, but both carry so much emotional baggage and general hangups it is hard to see how they will find a middle ground and begin a relationship. But they do . . .

Ellis is a heroic figure. He is a loyal friend, a conscientious businessman and community benefactor. While Mallory, as the author concedes, is a “heroine in the rough.” Mallory Heart demonstrates that she still has a long way to go before her redemption is complete. When things don’t go her way, Mallory falls back on old habits and shooting first and asking questions later. Innocent people are felled in her wake. This is a rough heroine, not a heroine in the rough.

Mallory’s characterization, up to a point, fails to live up to what we have been told about her. She is a savvy MBA-graduate and businesswoman who was poised for a position in a major corporation. Yet, after three false starts on a critical project she is overseeing, Mallory somehow neglected to discern who is the owner of the firm with which she’s dealing. The Mallory Heart we’ve come to know would only have dealt with the company president.

In her personal dealings she is closer to form. For example, when she has made a colossal blunder, she reverts to using her money, professional clout and family connections at a half-hearted attempt at making amends. The goal here is not necessarily an apology, but an opportunity to get back into Ellis’ good graces. The resolution of the conflicts don’t quite ring true.

The scenes between Mallory and Ellis lack the spark, the intensity and the humor that have been part of the best Felicia Mason romances. Body and Soul and Seduction are just two cases in point. At times, it is hard to see why the heroic Ellis remains interested in pursuing a relationship with Mallory beyond curiosity, pity or the need to construct a whole human being from the fragments that make up the complex woman.

There will be no redemption for Mallory Heart until she and her cousin Cole make peace. It is evident in this novel that they are still not speaking. There might be an opportunity if the author creates a romance for Lance Heart Smith, another secondary character introduced in Foolish Heart. However, at this point I am losing patience with the heartless Hearts.

Although Felicia Mason is one of my favorite authors, Forbidden Heart is a weak three-heart read. For those seeking a more satisfying romance by this author, I recommend her recent story, “Enchanted,” in the Island Magic anthology.

--Gwen Osborne


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