And Then He Kissed Me
by Teresa Southwick
(Silh. Romance #1405, $3.50, G) ISBN 0-373-19405-6
***
When Abby Ridgeway was eighteen and her sister Sarah eleven, their parents were killed in a car wreck. Abby had to relinquish the rest of her carefree teenage years and grow up quickly. She got a job as a waitress at one of Nick Marchetti's Italian restaurants in order to take care of Sarah and herself.

Now, five years later, Abby's life is close to being her own again. While she may outwardly be marking time until Sarah is in college, inwardly she's still that scared, confused eighteen-year-old who promised Nick that she'd be the best employee he ever had. That's close to the truth. She's worked her way up to assistant manager and values Nick's friendship. Sure, she may occasionally daydream about Nick but knows that this charismatic, larger-than-life man could never be interested in someone like her.

Nick met Abby when his life was at a low ebb, but he's been amazed as he's watched this young, resilient, courageous woman rebound from the worst that life can throw at her. Inevitably he's becoming attracted to her. Sure, he's always admired her and liked her but now he's seeing more about Abby that he really admires...and lusts after.

The bulk of the story concerns Abby's reluctance to change her relationship with Nick. She's never had a serious relationship and doesn't even date. Nick jokingly says that he's going to teach her the dating rules of the 90s, but as he begins, he realizes that he doesn't want anybody but himself teaching Abby about man/woman relationships. As he admonishes her to resist advances, she teasingly asks what to do if she wants their attention. "That's another seminar, entitled Try That Again and You'll Be Singing Soprano."

In addition to sexual tension or perhaps sexual anticipation, Abby's reluctance to accept that Sarah is really growing up provides much of the conflict. Nick is hard pressed to keep quiet, much to his chagrin when Abby turns on him for siding with Sarah. It's about then that he realizes that Abby has never completely accepted the death of her parents and that she's just simply scared to let go of Sarah or to care about anybody else who might end up leaving her.

This story feels as though it needs more detail, more analysis, more depth. The characters are somewhat out of focus with an incomplete feel. Nick's motivations are late in coming. The story develops very, very slowly with lots of introspection.

There are more Marchetti brothers, brothers who'll have their stories told, too. We'll be meeting Joe Marchetti sometime next year. All the brothers, Nick included, avow that they are confirmed bachelors. Let's line them up like bowling pins, and with the right woman as an incentive, see how fast they fall.

And Then He Kissed Me is a book that can be shared with your granny or your granddaughter. The actual sex is more imagined than real, which makes for a tame read. Sometimes shorter books are able to balance everything and have a complete, finished story. This one just needs more. It's close but not close enough.

--Linda Mowery


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