If Wishes Were… Husbands
by Debbi Rawlins
(Harl. American #741, $3.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-16741-5
This book got me. I don't know exactly when or how it happened, but one minute I'm reading along calmly, enjoying myself in a rather detached, reasonable manner. Then some time later, I'm closing the book with a really goofy sigh and grin.

If Wishes Were… Husbands begins with Gina Hart's impulsive trip to Rome. Her plan is to surprise her new Italian boyfriend, Nick, by showing up on his doorstep on his birthday. Boy, is he surprised – especially since Gina wasn't the only one of his lady friends to show up on that particular day. Gina and two of the other now-ex-girlfriends make tracks to a local bistro, where they become fast friends over good wine and their mutual disgust with Nick in particular and men in general.

The three women eventually head to Rome's famous Trevi Fountain, where they make wishes while throwing in coins. But as they are told by a local street kid, only one wish will come true. Good thing it isn't Gina's, since she wishes to become a nun! And thus begins the "Three Coins in a Fountain" series.

Libby, the "naive, optimistic Meg Ryan of Texas" will have her story told in Karen Toller Whittenburg's If Wishes Were… Weddings in October. Cool, classy Jessica, the "Grace Kelly of the West Coast," will have her turn in Jo Leigh's If Wishes Were… Daddies, a November release. But this is Gina's story – that is, Gina, the self-described "mutt from Brooklyn."

And Gina is one of the best things about this story. She's sassy, street smart, outgoing, and just a bit insecure. (This woman loves chocolate, worries about cellulite, and doesn't always have her legs shaved when unexpected romantic moments come up. Trust me, you'll love her.) In her job as an international courier, she's traveled to all sorts of exotic places, met lots of interesting people, and has even had a few opportunities to mingle with the rich and famous. But deep down, she hasn't forgotten that her Italian-American family back in Brooklyn isn't exactly Junior League material. After the latest debacle with the wealthy, high-society Nick, she's made a decision. If she won't swear off men altogether, at least she'll stick to "her own kind."

But when her wallet and passport are stolen, who does she encounter but Jackson Maxwell Covington III, assistant to the American consul general and a blueblood if there ever was one. Too bad he's incredibly sexy, especially since Gina can't seem to stay away from him. A series of mishaps sends her back to the embassy and thus, back to Jack, time after time.

They seem completely wrong for each other. Gina considers Jack a bit of a stuffed shirt, and in any case his world is too high-class for the likes of her. As for Jack, he's looking for the perfect partner for a diplomat – someone conservative, polished, and reserved. Gina, with her short skirts, hot-pink toenail polish, and free-and-easy manner doesn't exactly fit the bill. But maybe they have more in common than they imagine. And maybe all those things don't even matter when you really care about someone. Maybe.

The progression of their relationship surprised me with its reality. There may be Cinderella elements to this charming story, but it's no full-of-baloney fairy tale. Gina and Jack seemed like real people to me, and they don't fall headlong in love at the drop of a hat. Or maybe they do, but they're human enough to give in to a few doubts on the road to happily-ever-after.

So, when you combine these two well-formed characters with a romantic setting, loads of sexual tension, a few laughs, and a deft touch of realism, you get a knock-out story. And since I enjoyed this book so much, I admit I'm curious to see what happens to Libby and Jessie. Hey, like I said – it got me.

-- Ellen Hestand

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