All A Woman Wants

Blue Clouds

Denim and Lace

Garden of Dreams

Impossible Dreams

The Marquess

Merely Married

Nobody's Angel


Wayward Angel

Almost Perfect by Patricia Rice
(Ballantine, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-449-00603-4
More and more romance writers are pushing the boundaries of the genre. I like this trend when it adds to the story and doesn't detract or distract from the romance. In Almost Perfect, Patricia Rice gives her heroine a dark past and a murky present. Then she adds some tough moments to her tale, but it's those moments that make this story a compelling romance.

Cleo Alyssum is trying to put her past behind her and keep her act together so she can regain custody of her son. Talented with tools, Cleo owns and operates a small hardware store on a tiny island in South Carolina. She also owns a rundown farmhouse with a dilapidated beach cottage. Cleo's plan is to stay out of trouble, keep to herself and not let anyone in her new place of residence know that she's an ex-con out on parole.

Cleo is counting on her imaginative outside décor to keep trespassers off her property, even though she has direct access to the beach. She isn't counting on one burnt out syndicated cartoonist wanting to live in her rundown beach house, but life happens and Jared McCloud becomes Cleo's unwanted neighbor.

Jared is looking for inspiration and he finds plenty in his sexy neighbor. Sociable Jared ignores Cleo's many stay-away-from-me signs and finds his seemingly tough neighbor is a sucker for a hard luck story. She takes a special interest in two very troubled teens. While Cleo's plan is to keep her distance, Jared's plan is to get as close to Cleo as possible and to convince her he's not the shallow man she thinks he is.

The characters in Almost Perfect are interesting and well developed. Cleo's past has shaped her into a person who trusts few people; she has a particular distrust of authority that figures into the story line. Jared's sunny nature is the complete opposite of Cleo's. No matter how many times she tries to push him away, he never gives up on her -the best heroes never do.

Although the troubled teens almost steal this tale with their heartbreaking and truly frightening stories, they do provide a compelling conflict in Cleo and Jared's romance. Both Cleo and Jared want to save these children from the nightmare that is their life but Cleo's past prevents her from trusting authority. Jared sees things from an entirely different perspective and they have to come to terms with their very different beliefs in order to help the children.

Almost Perfect is not standard romance fare. Not simply because the heroine has a past, but because the story line takes on some very complex and serious issues that most romance writers avoid. Sometimes I just want a romance to be mindless entertainment and sometimes I want more - Almost Perfect gave me more and the more added to the quality of the romance. Which is why I was happy to note that Jared has two good-looking, rich, but unhappy brothers whom will undoubtedly need Ms. Rice's attention.

--Judith Flavell

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