The Bachelor

Brazen

Secret Fantasy

Simply Scandalous

Simply Sinful

 
The Playboy by Carly Phillips
(Warner, $5.99, R.) ISBN 0-446-61055-0
****
The Chandler boys are back, and this time itís sexy Officer Rickís story. Roman and Charlotte (The Bachelor) are blissfully happy newlyweds who are about to provide Roman and Rickís matchmaking mother with her first grandchild, when Rick answers an emergency call and meets up with a pink-haired, green-eyed bride with a car that refuses to run. The electricity and chemistry are instantaneous, and the plot is off and running.

Kendall Sutton and her groom realized just moments before they said ďI doĒ that they really didnít, and dissolved their engagement amicably. Ever impulsive, trained by a childhood of brief and unstable relationships with reluctant relatives while her parents were off exploring the globe unencumbered by the child they chose to ignore, Kendall sets off for Yorkshire Falls, site of her happiest moments as a child. Her Aunt Crystal, who loved her but had to give her up because of crippling arthritis, lived there and willed Kendall her house when she died recently. Kendall is going to put it on the market and head to Arizona to start her career as a jewelry designer. But things change when she meets Rick, and he carries her in her bridal gown over the threshold of her auntís home before the delighted eyes of the elderly couple who now live there. Itís a small town, and Rick is the town playboy, determined to never marry, so the news that heís carried a bride across a threshold spreads quickly.

But neither Kendall nor Rick are interested in anything permanent, even though they canít possibly deny the sexual connection that is stronger and more intense than anything either of them have ever felt. So they decide on a ruse, pretending to be a couple to get the ladies of the town off Rickís back, while he helps Kendall get the guesthouse into livable shape, so she can sell both it and the main house. However, chemistry rules, as their attraction for each other overpowers their mutual needs to be independent and alone. And then when things are just beginning to work themselves out, Kendallís fourteen-year-old sister Hannah, also a rebel to the core and suffering from their parentsí neglect, enters the picture. She runs away from boarding school and forces Kendall to take her in, purple hair, bad attitude, smart mouth and all.

This book could have been hackneyed in less skilled hands. Thereís no doubt as to whom the hero and heroine are from the moment they meet. The outcome is totally predictable. But thatís where skilled plotting and character creation step in. The characters are totally three-dimensional and believable, genuine human beings that the reader starts to care about immediately. There are several subplots to distract from the main theme, giving the reader something to explore other than the H/H interactions. Both sisters begin to realize that they have to deal with their pasts in order to be able to move into a future that looks like it could be extremely bright.

And they are not the only ones who have to leave the past behind to embrace the future. All three must face their deepest fears, the intimacies that push their long-standing buttons before they can begin to accept the best that life has to offer. And the author doesnít make this easy for them. Each has to admit what they fear most, and slowly, painfully work through it before they are able to find their happy ending. There are many steps forward for both Kendall and Rick, but each is accompanied by steps backward, as they struggle realistically with their pasts. Thereís no hint of ďwe recognize that we are soulmates and canít wait for the HEA.Ē They both want and fear commitment, and it shows in their interaction, adding to the realism.

While the ending is always known, Phillips somehow makes the process to that ending excruciatingly suspenseful, as one thing after another works to push buttons and create distance and misunderstanding. She keeps the reader on her toes every step of the way, and somehow makes her forget that the ending will be happy, one of the most enjoyable parts of the book. In addition, there are many secondary characters and each is charming and interesting in their eccentricities, adding color to the tale.

The Playboy could have been a superficial and trite novel, but Phillips has made it much more than that, with realistically flawed and complex characters who reveal the depths of their personalities and become real human beings, a plot that takes unexpected twists which elicit both sympathy and laughter, and skilled writing that brings everything to wonderful life. I canít wait to read The Loner.

--Joni Richards Bodart


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