The Bachelor's Bed

The Harder They Fall

Hiding Out at the Circle C

Long-Lost Mom

Who's the Boss

Duets 42 by Jill Shalvis
(Harlequin, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-44108-8
Kiss Me, Katie and Hug Me, Holly are connected stories in this Christmas-themed Duets release. Kiss Me, Katie is the story of Katie Wilkins, accountant at a small private airport, who decides to put some pizzazz into her life by kissing a guy at the office Christmas party. She knows who’s behind the Santa Suit - Matt Osborne, the office hunk. But Katie believes she's been Christmas Cursed ever since she was six and didn’t get the Barbie vacation house she wanted. (Yes, you read that right.) So it figures that, when she lays a kiss on Santa and gets a big thrill down to her tootsies, it would be the wrong guy in the suit. It’s not Matt. It’s Bryan Morgan, a stunt pilot and all-around daredevil.

This is bad news for Katie, because she hates stunt pilots. Her Dad was one and got killed, so all stunt pilots are unreliable. But she loves planes. So she works at an airport. When Bryan confronts her, she denies the evidence and spends most of the story protesting that it wasn’t him she kissed. Are you beginning to have the same feelings I did?

Yes, it’s Twit Time over at the old Duets corral. Here we have a heroine who literally runs away down an office hallway to get away from the hero. Who does something silly and ends up with her dress around her neck, then gets mad at the hero because, “You saw my panties”. Whose ridiculous actions at the end are nothing more than cardboard sitcom behavior, destined to elicit a laugh from nobody (unless there’s a handy laugh track lurking about). There is absolutely nothing entertaining about reading a romance with a heroine who acts as if she’s in junior high. Even a hunky hero can’t save this story. One heart.

Hug Me, Holly fares only slightly better. Holly Stone, bit player in Kiss Me, Katie, is the quintessential beautiful, useless screwup to be found in so many romances. Holly leaves Southern California for the tiny town of Little Paradise, Arizona, where she’s agreed to run the Nirvana café for a month until it sells. The café belongs to the Mendozas, parents of the Stone family’s maid. Since the rest of the Stones are off being brilliant doctors, Holly is the chosen helper. No sooner does she arrive than the Mendozas hang up their aprons and walk out, which made absolutely no business sense. Holly is now all alone and running the café, and she can neither handle people nor cook. Of course.

Enter Sheriff Riley McMann, who distrusts all City Women because his own mother abandoned him for the Lights of the Big City. (Where have we heard this before?) He’s attracted to Holly, but she’s bound to leave. Holly thinks the sheriff is hot stuff, but she doesn’t want to be stuck in this hick burg.

Te only thing that elevates Holly slightly is that she knows she’s a screwup. It doesn’t excuse the tired, clichéd plot, however. Holly makes instant oatmeal, and when it cools, it “turns into cement”. (I’ve done this. Trust me. It’s still edible.) She wrecks pans. She burns everything, pours ice water into customers’ laps, sits on the cat. The thought of simply closing the café and nagging the realtor to get a sale in motion is, of course, inconceivable. Meanwhile, she and Riley turn up the heat some, but not enough to save this story. And Christmas is barely mentioned. One heart.

If over-the-top characters and tired plotlines you’ve read about a hundred times before don’t bother you, then this Duets may entertain you more than it did me. But I can’t recommend spending your money on it.

--Cathy Sova

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