My One and Only
by MacKenzie Taylor
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-81937-6
***
Abby Lee has traveled from Chicago to San Francisco to persuade Ethan Maddux, an internationally recognized business consultant, to help save Montgomery Data Systems, headed by Harrison Montgomery. Abby heads the Montgomery Foundation, a charitable foundation. She is personally grateful to Harrison for giving her a job following her parents’ murders which enabled her to raise her younger sister Rachel.

Ethan, however, has reasons to resent Harrison, who is his biological father. Harrison’s father was a tyrant who controlled the lives of his family members. He was irate that Harrison was involved with an employee so Ethan and his mother received little support. Nearly twenty years earlier Ethan turned his back on his father and made his own way to success. He has no desire to save MDS and Harrison, but he is interested in Abby.

Ethan pursues his interest in Abby and becomes involved with her and Rachel, now a thirteen-year-old whose interest is gourmet cooking. He eventually agrees to look over MDS’s records to see if it’s possible to save the company. He confirms what Abby had suspected: MDS is being systematically drained of its financial assets. Is it Harrison, a family member, or merely bad management? (Ethan is mistaken: Harrison does have a duty to run the business with an eye toward its profitability.) Abby is further worried that Harrison himself is a target of some plot.

When someone tries to break into Abby’s and Rachel’s home, their concerns intensify. A jack of spades playing card left behind suggests that it is connected with her parents’ murders. Is it also connected to MDS’s troubles?

Many romance readers will feel they are in familiar territory with the seeking-out-the-biz-whiz-to-save-the-day/rigid-tycoon-melted-by-warmhearted-heroine plot. Jayne Ann Krentz wrote - and is still writing - innumerable variations on this theme. After all this time, it’s not a terribly original plot, but it allows the hero and heroine to be intelligent and productive as well as providing enough external conflict to keep things interesting.

Ethan is one of those heroes who presents a controlled, self-contained persona but is actually a seething cauldron of passion beneath his deceptive appearance. Abby is one of those heroines whose generous spirit inevitably breaks through his reserve. These are familiar romance conventions, and Abby and Ethan never rise above the stereotypes. We’re told about the past events that have formed their characters, but this doesn’t bring them alive. Ethan in particular remains somewhat an enigma. Merely describing him as a self-made tycoon without detailing how he rose to prominence despite his disadvantaged childhood doesn’t make a multi-dimensional character.

The one character who is fresh and lively is Rachel. The most entertaining scenes in the book are the ones that feature Rachel rather than the ones that involve only Abby and Ethan. An epilogue indicates that Rachel is not to have her own story. Where My One and Only falls flat is the mystery subplot. I really tried to make sense of it but decided it couldn’t be done. Unanswered threads are left dangling - why couldn’t Lucas’s investigator find any evidence of Abby’s existence prior to her parents’ murder? Why won’t Abby tell the cops the break-in might be related to the unsolved murders? The biggest fizzle, however, is the basis - or rather than lack thereof - for the blackmail threat. I heard strains of Peggy Lee singing “Is This All There Is?” in the background. (Hint: Harrison has something in common with the last two Presidents.)

My One and Only is described as being Ms. Taylor’s contemporary romance debut. Based on the copyright line, however, I suspect that this is not her debut novel. I would not be surprised to learn that MacKenzie Taylor is a new pseudonym for a previously published author in another romance subgenre.

Readers who enjoy Jayne Ann Krentz’s plots and characters may want to check out My One and Only to see how another author handles the same elements, but this version doesn’t break new ground. My One and Only is an acceptable romance but no more.

--Lesley Dunlap


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