Last Resort: Marriage
by Pamela Stone
(Harl. American #1267, $4.99, PG-13)  ISBN 978-0-373-75271-3
New author Pamela Stone does a lot of right things with her first release, Last Resort: Marriage. She manages to inject a few new twists into a standard “marriage of convenience” story, and her clean writing style makes for an easy read.

Charlotte Harrington has spent the last few years managing one of her family’s resorts in Key West, Florida. The resort is a huge success and just about everyone likes Charlotte’s style. When her grandfather shows up with Charlotte’s ex-fiancé, though, things get sticky. Edward Harrington wants his granddaughter to marry Perry Thurman and return to Boston to run the Harrington chain, something Charlotte has always dreamed of. But marrying smarmy, lying Perry? Over her dead body. However, if Edward wants her married, Charlotte will do her best to fake him out.

The timely arrival of Aaron Brody sets up Charlotte’s plans nicely. Charlie’s announcement that he is her fiancé takes Aaron by surprise, but he sizes up the situation and plays along. Edward forces their hand, however, insisting on a quick wedding. Aaron and Charlie strike a private agreement. They’ll marry for six months, she’ll give him a hundred thousand dollars, and they’ll quietly dissolve the marriage after convincing Edward that they are a love match.

Aaron is a scuba charter boat captain and has a reputation as an island playboy. The hundred grand will help his cash-strapped business, and being married to Charlie should be no hardship as he finds her more than attractive. Charlie sets a condition: no sex. Readers will know this plan is going right out the window, but the author doesn’t let it happen right away, giving Aaron and Charlie time to get used to one another. Meanwhile, wily Edward insists that Perry stay on as the assistant manager of the resort, and soon he’s interfering in Charlie’s business and spying on their marriage, looking for signs of fraud.

Of course we all know where this will go, but it’s a fun trip. Charlie is plenty smart and after being betrayed by Perry in the past, has no intention of letting herself get too close to a guy. She’ll focus on her career, instead. Aaron grew up in poverty in Miami and has scraped for every dime; he’s unfazed and unimpressed by either Edward or Perry, which makes him a more-than-capable ally for Charlie. His past relationships have been little more than bar hookups, and he’s never had the chance to get close to a woman of any substance like Charlie. Opposites definitely attract.

Charlie is portrayed as guarded, but likeable. She’s attracted to Aaron, and really has no snobbery regarding his business or his background; her hesitation is his playboy reputation. This works; what woman wants to become another notch on a bunk? Aaron is equally guarded, but it’s because he’s in over his head and knows it. Charlie could become more important to him than he dreamed, and he has no experience with marriage or family. His friends offer advice and gentle nudges.  e’s a fine hero, and Charlie is a good foil for him. And their physical relationship is quite steamy.

The characters of Edward and Perry are more one-dimensional. One is controlling and the other is conniving, and it takes Charlie too long to tell them off. This makes her seem like a bit of a wimp, and is really the only drawback to an otherwise satisfying story.

Last Resort: Marriage is a fine debut for Pamela Stone. She seems to have a nice, natural voice for contemporary romance, and I look forward to seeing what she has in store next.  Cathy Sova

--Cathy Sova

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