Yours to Keep
by Shannon Stacey
(Carina Press/Harlequin, $4.99, R) ISBN 978-1-4268-9172-4
***
About a month ago I entered the wonderful world of e-reading, and subsequently discovered Carina Press, Harlequin’s digital-first imprint. While I initially mistrusted the idea of any reading material that couldn’t be dog-eared, I have now come to believe that any mechanism that broadens the opportunities for romance readers and authors is a positive development. Shannon Stacey is a key case in point. The author of several historical and fantasy fiction e-books, she seems to have hit her stride as a contemporary romance author. Readers who bemoan the lack of modern romances that don’t revolve around vampires or Navy SEALS might want to check her out.

Despite its well-worn plotline and predictability, Yours to Keep is an entertaining read. Emma Shaw told her grandmother Catherine that she is engaged to Sean Kowalski, the cousin-in-law of her best friend, so that Cat will relax and enjoy her retirement in Florida. When Cat decides to visit Emma in New Hampshire, Emma is forced to recruit the actual Sean Kowalski, who has conveniently just returned from serving in Afghanistan, to be her fake fiancé. Against his better judgment, Sean agrees to participate in the farce, primarily because family is important to him and he can see that Emma is only trying to protect her grandmother.

Unsurprising but amusing hijinks ensue. Of course Emma is going to cook something that Sean hates for their first meal together. Of course they are going to be attracted to each other and wind up having mind-blowing sex. Of course neither will admit that they are starting to fall in love because they both have perfectly good reasons to avoid commitments. And of course by the end of the novel, the fake engagement will become the real thing.

But getting there is admittedly a lot of fun. Both Emma and Sean are likeable characters, their chemistry is palpable and their bantering is witty. If there’s anything I hate more than SEALs or vampires in my romances it’s ditzy heroines, but as the owner of a landscaping business Emma is competent and ambitious. Sean is macho without being overbearing. They realize the irony of their situation: they have to hide the fact that they are not a real couple from Emma’s grandmother, but they also have to hide the fact that they are sleeping together from Sean’s family, who are in on the ruse. Both Emma’s grandmother and Sean’s aunt engage in a bit of meddling, but neither are presented as doddering old folks – in fact, Cat even gets her own romance with a childhood friend. Several Kowalski men and their wives appear from Stacey’s two previous books in this series, and a few others appear to be sequel bait, but they don’t distract too much from the main romance.

Shannon Stacey has a light, breezy style that doesn’t take itself too seriously but manages to hit a few dramatic notes when appropriate. If you have a Nook, Kindle or other e-reader and miss good mainstream contemporaries, you will enjoy Yours to Keep.

--Susan Scribner


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