Table for Two by Karen Sandler
(Precious Gem Romances #127, $1.96, PG)
ISBN 0-8217-6035-1
***
Karen Sandler achieves quite a bit in the limited number of pages allotted to her by Precious Gem. She gives us a fun relationship involving two people, initially unsure, and allows us to witness that relationship grow into an abiding love. She also gives us an engaging secondary character, a father who uses delightfully devious ways to achieve his end purpose.

In what first appears to be a parody of Cinderella, we meet thirty-year-old Rachel Reeves as she's asked to do yet another favor for her younger sisters. They've heard that Hanford House of Pancakes is looking for a spokeswoman, and the sisters want to audition. They convince Rachel, a professional seamstress, to sew up a quickie costume for them.

Just from seeing his picture in the paper, Rachel is smitten with Jack Hanford, the pancake CEO. She accompanies her sisters to the audition in hopes of getting a glimpse of Jack. He more than lives up to his picture, and she's mesmerized. Jack, seeing a quiet blond in a sea of pancake-attired people, is drawn to her. He's also afraid that his father will see this lovely blond and want her for his next wife. For reasons he can't yet articulate, Jack wants to know this woman. To achieve those ends, he offers Rachel the job of Hanford spokeswoman. For reasons she can't yet articulate, Rachel accepts.

Jack's father, a wily old codger, has set up a two month promotional tour for Rachel and Jack. Springing the information on them, he informs them that the publicity releases indicate that they are married. So they'll be rooming together, too.

Here's where the story breaks down for me. Rachel, a lovely woman, has always seen herself as drab and plain. Her reasons for this misconception are never adequately explained. Jack dresses her in peacock colors and watches her blossom. Because of her faulty self-perception, Rachel has never taken a lover. At age thirty, this fact is a little hard to accept.

Jack, tired of seeing his father marry and divorce, knows that he wants no part of a committed relationship. Loud Groan Here! He desires the sweet, lovely Rachel, then gets mad at himself for allowing that desire to cloud his goals. He's so hot and cold that he has Rachel thinking he's mad at her. While Rachel isn't quite a doormat, there were times I wanted her to knock some sense into this MAN.

A plot line that really doesn't go anywhere (and for that I am grateful) is Jack's 'kissing' cousin, Loretta. She's always wanted Jack for herself and deliberately lies to Rachel, insinuating that she and Jack are talking marriage. Guilt does ultimately intervene, causing Loretta to admit her duplicity to Jack. Loretta's part doesn't slow down this relationship. At this stage, Jack and Rachel are just eyeballing each other, anyway.

How likely is it that lust will play a large part in choosing a corporate spokeswoman? Rachel is never asked if she has television experience and yet is expected to make commercials. She's noticeably shy and yet is expected to go to Hanford House of Pancakes Grand Re-openings and mingle comfortably. Yes, she is able to carry out her duties, but I sense lots of artistic license being taken here.

The event that caused me the most distress and anxiety was Dad's scheme of dropping pancakes from an airplane. I don't know if pancakes can cause bodily injury if they land on someone, but I can surely imagine a mess on someone's head. I am willing and eager to suspend disbelief each time I read. There were just too many places where I stopped and wondered if many of these things could really happen.

I see so much potential in Karen Sandler's story telling ability. She writes passages of beautiful prose. She even elevates the consumption of pancakes to a sensuous art form. While I'm looking forward to her next stories, I hope nothing more falls out of airplanes.

--Linda Mowery


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