Dear Cupid

Drive Me Wild

Falling for You

Too Perfect

by Julie Ortolon
(Signet Eclipse, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-22204-6
Riley Stone brushed the dust of tiny Hope, Texas off her heels eleven years ago and vowed never to return. As a child, her feckless mother had dumped Riley on her grim, Bible-thumping grandmother. The young Riley found comfort in the company of the local dance-hall owner, a woman who taught Riley to pursue her dreams. Riley’s dream of becoming a singer was marginally successful; now she’s back in Hope, living in her late grandmother’s house and trying to save the dance hall, while singing in a local restaurant.

In the kid of plot setup that’s only likely in books, the town is virtually owned by the powerful Hope family. The current scion, Edward Hope, is a senator who apparently is willing to let the place go to rack and ruin. Riley, now singing in a local restaurant, sets out to save the dilapidated dance hall from being torn down and replaced by a discount superstore (and why a giant chain would put a superstore in a one-light town also makes no sense). This brings her into direct conflict with her teenaged crush, Jackson Stone.

Jackson, son of Edward, is a successful Austin attorney who is pondering a career in politics. He’s sent to Hope to straighten out this dance hall mess, and he runs right into Riley - his teenaged fantasy. Jackson, a geek in high school, never had the nerve to approach Riley, who left him in tongue-tied knots. Riley, belittled by the cool kids, adopted a defensive “hottie” attitude that left most of the town with the impression she’d slept with half the men in town, even the high school coach.

Jackson and Riley are at odds over the dance hall. He doesn’t see the value in saving a dilapidated, abandoned building; she sees it as an important town monument. The only way to keep it out of developers’ hands is to get it declared a historic site. Along the way, Riley and Jackson will unearth a few of the town’s secrets, reaching deep into the Hope family. They’ll also finally act on their long-ago attraction.

And “finally” is an appropriate word, because it takes most of the book for Riley to leave her tiresome teenage posturing behind and let Jackson know she’s not really a slut. One would think that a woman in her late twenties would be glad to put that kind of reputation to rest, especially since it’s false, but Riley doesn’t know how to handle her attraction to Jackson, and she’s afraid of being rejected, so she falls right back into her sex-kitten persona. There really isn’t anything keeping these two apart, so the author forces the issue by making Riley into a tease who sends Jackson lots of hot looks, then walks away, sure he’ll reject her anyway. The problem is, readers are likely to lose a lot of respect for her character, as well as lose patience with the plot device.

Jackson is a fine character. He knows darn well he’s still attracted to Riley, but there’s still a bit of a geek hidden under the expensive suit, and he’s not sure how his interest will be received. Especially since she’s slinking around like a professional tease. I had more sympathy for Jackson than Riley.

Jackson and Riley do eventually get together (albeit with a hackneyed plot element that I couldn’t believe the author included), and from then on, the book picks up steam in more ways than one. The solution to the dance hall mystery/problem is satisfying, giving the book a good sense of closure. The author ties the pieces together nicely.

If only Riley and Jackson had been allowed to overcome their obstacles earlier in the story, I might have enjoyed it more. Unforgettable is no such thing, but it’s an acceptable reading experience.

--Cathy Sova

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