Accidental Fiancée by Renee Roszel
(Harl. Romance #3644, $3.50, G) ISBN 0-373-03644-2
**
Accidental Fiancée is the third and final book in the ‘Merits of Marriage' series, featuring three Merit brothers. The first two books are Honeymoon Hitch and Coming Home to Wed.Perhaps reading the first two books might have given me a frame of reference for this story, but somehow I don't think it would have enhanced my enjoyment.

Here's the setup. Zach Merit, who races speed boats for a living and skydives for fun, hasn't been to his family home on Merit Island in years. He's decided to drop in...literally, via parachute. He needs to hide out from the press and knows that the secluded, well-secured island will suit his purposes.

And why does he need to escape the press? Zach is being hounded about his engagement to Olivia Nordstrom, whose father is running for Prez. Zach rescued Olivia in a derring-do rescue, with the whys and hows glossed over. The rescue, the one that we don't know much about, was so cool that a movie has been made about it.

Olivia, in a sarcastic off-putting remark to a tenacious reporter who's grilling her about her relationship with Zach, retorts, "Would it satisfy you if I admit I'm madly in love with my rescuer and we're engaged to be married?" The unscrupulous reporter writes her question as fact, and all of a sudden America thinks that Olivia and Zach are engaged.

Knowing that she's made a major blunder, Olivia travels to Merit Island to apologize to Zach and to undo any damage that the scurrilous reporter has caused. She's so exhausted with campaign fatigue that she collapses and is ordered by Zach's brother, a doctor, to stay on the island for at least a week to rest and recuperate.

Now the story deteriorates into cartoonish antics. Olivia sees herself as the ugly duckling next to Zach the swan. He's reckless, exciting, sexy - ­everything that Olivia isn't. She gets the impulsive idea that Zach can teach her to walk on the wild side, to be more spontaneous. Zach reluctantly agrees and immediately begins a regimen of dare and double-dare, trying to test her resolve and get her to acknowledge that their lifestyles are totally incompatible.

Olivia suddenly finds herself wearing clothes that show her navel and a few other things she'd rather not show. One of Zach's object lessons is at dinner when he dares Olivia to eat a Tasmanian delicacy of Pig's trotters hash. He calls it a ‘taste of wildness', but you and I know it by its American name­, rice pudding. I could feel her revulsion as she wondered what part of the pig the rice grains were. Gross!

Olivia decides to turn the tables and surprises Zach with a new, unconventional hairstyle. His reply sums up the book for me. "I should be spanking your backside, young lady. It's one thing to wear unconservative clothes, but to destroy your hair?" His attitude vacillates between a horny teenager and a disdainful uncle. Add to that the difference of twelve years in their ages, and perhaps you'll understand why I found his attitude to be demeaning and condescending.

When Zach demands that Olivia prove herself by spending the night alone on a neighboring island, I was disgusted that she agrees. Why? Some dares are just too dumb, yet she considers it with all the seriousness of choosing a new car. Get a grip, babe.

It's hard to give any credibility to a burgeoning romance when both characters suffer from insecurities, yet one tries to do something about hers and the other huffs and puffs his way through. I found her to be too malleable, too Milquetoast and him to be a blowhard. That combination didn't fan the fires of my heart, but did raise my temperature somewhat.

Ire will do that.

--Linda Mowery


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