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Table for Two

Unforgettable by Karen Sandler
(Jove Haunting Hearts, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-515-12498-2
Unforgettable contains several unusual elements that would seem to make it a standout. There's a tough, independent woman who owns an auto salvage yard. There's a lonesome cowboy-type drifter who has quietly made a fortune in investments. Most prominently, there's a pair of lovesick ghosts. Unfortunately, the lack of convincing conflict and deep character development crippled this story, so that even the most fantastical elements couldn't make it compelling for me. Ms. Sandler writes well, and her story is not without its appealing moments, but in the end, it just didn't work.

The heroine is Kyra Aimes, a young widow soured on love by a bad marriage, now struggling to maintain her wrecking yard business and determined to steer clear of handsome, charming ne'er do wells like her ex-husband. The hero is Randon Bolton, a love 'em and leave 'em type with a serious fear of commitment and responsibility. The two meet, become attracted to each other, and begin a relationship that neither seems to want.

Along the way, there's a subplot (which, by the way, takes ages to develop) involving the aforementioned lovesick ghosts. If Kyra and Randon can work together to solve the mystery surrounding the death of the young lovers, perhaps their earth-bound souls can finally be free. And maybe, just maybe, it will help Kyra and Randon find a love of their own. They're going to need a lot of supernatural help, if you ask me.

Randon sees immediately that Kyra is the "forever, promises" kind of woman, while he prefers the "no strings attached" kind. So even though he's attracted to her, he vows to keep his distance. Kyra is likewise drawn to Randon not only because of his good looks, but because of the pain she sees in his eyes. But since he makes his commitment phobia clear from the beginning, she's wary of any involvement with him. Nevertheless, they can't seem to stay away from each other.

The message seems to be that their overwhelming attraction to each other, both physical and emotional, overcomes their better judgment, but for me, the way they constantly overrode their own decisions made them seem like waffling, inconsistent characters who conveniently took whatever action moved the plot along.

The plot itself is merely a series of contrived episodes that rather implausibly bring the hero and heroine together again and again. This in itself isn't a huge problem I'm all for books that sacrifice intricacy of plot to give the developing romantic relationship center stage. The real problem is that the relationship, in this case, doesn't do much developing.

Oh, Kyra and Randon get to know each other to some extent in the few days they spend together. They share some of the private details of their lives, and they each offer comfort in the other's time of need. But despite this, nothing's really moving forward in their relationship because Randon just can't shake the idea that he isn't capable of settling down. His strong aversion to stability was never explained to my satisfaction, and since it was the major point of conflict in the story, that's trouble.

Kyra, too, is a weakly drawn character. Her initial wariness of men in general and Randon in particular is motivated by her bad experience with her ex-husband, but that wariness fades awfully quickly, and with no substantial reason. Before you know it, she's morphed into Kyra the Martyred Romance Heroine, willing to take whatever Randon will give so she can live on the memories.

Such poorly motivated and thinly-drawn characters just didn't ring true for me. Neither one experiences any real growth or change in the course of the story. They just move around like chess pieces, waiting for the checkmate of an obligatory happy ending.

And that happy ending, I must say, is one of the most pat, Pollyanna summations I've read in ages. Add that to unconvincing characters and a relationship that goes nowhere for the majority of the story, and you've got a book that just doesn't satisfy.

-- Ellen Hestand

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