The Million-Dollar Marriage
by Eva Rutland
(Harl. Romance #3518, $3.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-03518-7
****
I "discovered" Eva Rutland two years ago in an anthology called Sisters. Her novella, "Guess What's Cooking," was the third in a collection of romances by three African-American authors that dealt with love and kinship between sisters particularly in the face of their relationships with men. (Sandra Kitt and Anita Richmond Bunkley are the other authors.) "Guess Who's Cooking," was a cute story about a matchmaking kid sister's attempts to steer her older sister toward the right guy.

I enjoyed the story and was interested in learning what else Rutland had written. I discovered that Eva Rutland is a prolific author who has written nearly 20 Regency and series romances for Harlequin.

The Million-Dollar Marriage is the last story of a three-part series that began in January 1997 with Marriage Bait. The Wedding Trap, a marriage-of-convenience story released in January of this year, introduced Melody Sands. The Million-Dollar Marriage is Melody's story.

Melody is an heiress whose last foray into love and romance ended badly. She fell in love with Dirk Johanson, a ski instructor and Viking god look-alike. Not even the threat of disinheritance could deter Melody from marrying Dirk. Reality set in, before the wedding, when she learned Dirk had betrayed her for $50,000 pieces of her father's silver and moved to a resort in Switzerland with a......hat check girl. More than losing Dirk, Melody mourned the loss of faith in her fellow man.

Melody has returned to her father's home, doing "this and that," when she meets Tony Costello. Tony's a handsome, down-to-earth guy who is doing some part-time landscaping work because the Sands' gardener has been sidelined by seasonal arthritis. When the cook sends Melody outside to take Tony some hot coffee, Melody borrows the cook's ratty jacket to protect herself from the chilly weather. Tony assumes she's part of the household staff and Melody thrilled finally to be taken as a "normal" person never corrects Tony's misunderstanding. She agrees to have dinner with him.

Tony thinks he's found the working-class angel of his dreams and pursues her relentlessly. (Well, as relentlessly as a man who is working odd jobs, going to school, beginning a business and doing landscaping favors and barters for family members can!) They find time to fall in love.

After a whirlwind courtship, Tony proposes and Melody readily accepts. There is a 24-hour waiting period, enough time for an alert reporter to notice Melody's name on the marriage license application list and resurrect her past. Right after the "I do's" are said, a penny-ante misunderstanding becomes a $30 million misunderstanding. Cameras are rolling when Tony is asked: "Mr. Costello, how does it feel to be married to an heiress"?

Of course, Tony's the strong, proud, independent type. He's more than a little miffed. Melody promises that they'll live within his means. It reminds you of the old "Bewitched" television series when Darren made Samantha promise not to use her witchcraft. You figure sooner or later there's going to be a slip-up.

I liked The Million Dollar Marriage. It was a nice story about two nice people who really loved each other. Despite a well-worn storyline, there were a few surprises.

Melody is a strong, feisty heroine who comes into her own. Her gradual metamorphosis from cactus flower to hot-house rose is a joy to watch. I, like several secondary characters, thought Tony was a bit anal about the money.

And, as much as I liked the lead characters, it was the secondary cast that really made this story work for me. The Costello women are not pushovers! Without the strong secondary characters, the story would have been palatable, but their presence gave the book much needed seasoning without overpowering the plot.

The difference between this book and the others like it is Rutland's extension of the plot. The happily ever after doesn't automatically come at the wedding. That's where the trouble begins. Melody and Tony have to work harder at their relationship. As a result, the reader gets to know a little bit more about them. We learn who they are and what they're made of. For me, it was the difference between a three-heart and a four-heart read.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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