Jade's Gamble by Patricia Olney
(Loveswept #888, $3.50, PG) ISBN 0-553-44609-6
Eight years ago, Jade O'Donnell got married. The reception lasted longer than the marriage.

"Rick had known she was pregnant when Reverend Fowler had pronounced them husband and wife. Half an hour later she'd found herself at the reception, hearing him say he didn't think it was such a good idea for them to marry. They were already married, she'd thought, stunned. Wasn't it a little late?"

Obviously, it's never too late. Jade soon found herself living in Faith, California, with her aunt. Her wealthy parents, who planned for her to marry the son of an old family friend, had disliked her husband from the start. When she refused to give up her child for adoption, they quickly disowned her. When her parents were killed in an automobile accident, Jade's son, Lucas, was their only heir.

Jade's thirty-minute ex-spouse has zeroed in on the smell of money. He has sued her for custody of Lucas or, rather, control of Lucas' trust fund. Jade's in a jam and her lawyer has advised her that she needs a husband – fast. (At this point, it might be helpful to add that Jade's lawyer is the only attorney in town, he's affordable and there are "those rumors about his drinking." )

Jade's Gamble is a marriage-of-convenience story that revolves around Jade's desperation to retain custody of her son. Jade and her aunt run "The Cinnamon Girl," a small bakery in town. Lucas is happy, well-cared for and has dreams of becoming a fireman. I found it hard to believe that a court would take away her son because she had once declared bankruptcy instead of simply appointing a new trustee. Awarding custody to a father who abandoned both mother and child before the ink was dry on the wedding papers struck me as a bit extreme.

Enter Trace Banyon, a former firefighter who has recently come to Faith. He's doing construction work and living with his cousin who owns a bed and breakfast in town. After an early skirmish, Jade and Trace are attracted to each other. And, although he's a newcomer to the town she's lived and worked in for eight years, she enlists his help in finding a husband. Trace quickly compiles a list of the town losers and Jade dutifully dates each of them.

"How could she have misunderstood his intention? How could she have thought that maybe he wanted to marry her?"

Jade may have misunderstood because Trace is sending mixed signals. He is attracted to her, but he's also plagued by nightmares of a woman and her son who perished in a fire – a woman who bore an uncanny resemblance to Jade. His former fiancée couldn't cope with the dangers of his job and dumped him. He is a second-generation fireman who also feels he's disappointed his father. Trace is scarred both physically and emotionally.

Once Jade's ex-husband comes to town and threatens her, Trace reluctantly agrees to marry her. Although there are some four-alarm love scenes in an otherwise two-heart book, I was never quite convinced about Jade and Trace's personal relationship. And, as I've said before, I never fully bought into the premise that she had to get married to retain custody of her son. As a result Jade's Gamble was lost on me.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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