Duets 95

His Best Friendís Baby
by Molly OíKeefe
(Harl. Super Rom. #1385, $5.50. PG) ISBN 0-373-71385-1
This is a difficult book to classify, but ultimately it comes down to whether or not one likes the hero and heroine. In this case I didnít, so I am giving you a warning to read His Best Friendís Baby only if you really enjoy a hero and heroine who are both filled with guilt and angst to the exclusion of all else.

Jesse Filmore is a veteran who has just recently returned from Iraq. He is still recuperating from his injuries received on a mission during which they rescued a journalist who had been kidnapped, but Jesse lost his crew and friends in the process. Mitch Adams had been Jesseís friend almost his whole life. Mitch was one of those charmer types who got away with everything, especially since he had Jesse around to take the blame or smooth things over. Everyone thought Mitch was a great guy, but Jesse knew he had problems.

Jesse returns to his hometown of New Springs, California, against his wishes, because his mother died and left him her house. Jesseís childhood was not a happy one, but he loved his mother. Jesse is angry at his older sister, who left home when she was 18 to escape the abuse. Rachel, his sister, is now married to an old friend of Jesseís and they have custody of Macís teenage daughter, Amanda. Jesse wants nothing to do with them, wanting to wallow in his guilt, fix up the house enough to sell it and move to San Diego where he has lined up a job with a buddy who is a contractor.

Mitch left a widow when he died. Julia Adams is an Army brat who hates moving around. She was swept off her feet by Mitch and was pregnant before either of them knew what was up. Mitch married her and they had a lively two-year-old named Ben. But Mitch was less than a good husband, cheating on Julia and consistently telling her how much she lacked as a wife and a woman. Julia comes to New Springs to bring Ben to his grandparents and to think about settling down.

Mitchís parents are thrilled to see their grandson and accept Julia. They never thought she was good enough for Mitch and never hesitated to let her know that. In addition, what little they heard from Mitch were primarily lies. Julia was left with a military pension and a load of debt from Mitchís gambling. But she has decided to take the high road and just try to get along.

Jesse met Julia once for a very brief time in Germany when he and Mitch were on leave. They were immediately attracted. Jesse told her that she was too good for Mitch and lovingly touched her face. Then he left because he realized how much he cared for her. That one encounter helped Julia realize that Mitch was the one at fault in their marriage, not her. They are still attracted but fight it. Jesse because of guilt and Julia because she isnít sure if she can help Jesse heal.

Their history is at the crux of my primary problem. It is difficult to believe that they fell in love during that one encounter, a love so strong that it is causing them heartache, lust and feelings of inadequacy that are so strong. The other big problem is the angst. They are so full of trauma and guilt, itís hard to see what the attraction really was.

Jesse is surly throughout the majority of the tale and when they finally agree to be civil to each other, the author shifts from showing us their interactions to telling us about them. This makes Jesseís shift all that more difficult to believe. Julia, on the other hand is sweeter than sweet to the point that she allows Mitchís parents and then Jesse to dictate how she feels and whether she believes in herself. By the time she gets the backbone to stand up, it was too late for me.

If you like tortured heroes and heroines, then this one may appeal to you.

--Shirley Lyons

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