Safe By His Side

 
The Marriage Prescription by Debra Webb
(Harl. American #935, $4.75, PG) ISBN 0-373-16935-3
***
The Marriage Prescription is a smile-producing little romance and a nice entry in the Colby Agency series. There is really only one major flaw that keeps it from getting a wholehearted recommendation.

Beth McCormick Daniels, M.D. is living at home in small-town Indiana following her divorce. She realizes she married the wrong guy and is content to practice medicine, knowing her one true love is lost to her. She is smart, engaging, caring and full of love for this man.

This man is Zach Ashton, lawyer extraordinaire for the Colby Agency. The reader knows this because it is stated in the book and he has exactly two conversations with his boss. Otherwise, he is on vacation and there is no indication of why working for the Colbys is anything special. (Not having read any of the other books in this series, I do not know if this is true to form.)

Zach has returned to Kelso Indiana, for his motherís 75th birthday celebration. He has been in love with neighbor Beth ever since she was 17 and he was 24. He realized then she was too young, so he decided to bide his time and wait for her. Only problem was, he failed to tell her and she married another before he could declare himself.

Neither Beth nor Zach has resolved their feelings and they still hold each other dear. They have been friends and fear ruining this. But theirs is a rocky road. Zachís mother, Colleen, has a secret that she is loathe to share, and this secret threatens to destroy her friendship of forty years with Bethís mother, Helen. Beth and Zach are thrown together to plan Colleenís birthday party and their instantaneous attraction threatens to combust. A side plot involves one of Bethís patients, who is dying of leukemia and needing a bone marrow donor.

I hesitate to give more away, as this secret is the heart of the intrigue and I donít want to ruin the enjoyment for anyone. Suffice it to say, there is a lot to learn about this small town.

Beth and Zach are enjoyable in the star roles. Both are bright and have plenty of common sense, even as they journey through the confused feelings they have for one another. Their discoveries are funny and poignant and the sexual tension builds nicely. There were some clever scenes written to show their burgeoning awareness. I truly enjoyed their start-then-stop romantic encounters that left them frustrated, while at the same time cementing their growing feelings for the other. When consummation finally occurs, it is explosive, and in a most unlikely place (try the ladies room at the drive-in theatre)!

The one flaw I mentioned is the length of time that is spent in this aura of confused feelings, without much action. I grew frustrated with the drawn-out exploration of feelings, and the underlying tension about the unknown secret. Unfortunately, my powers of deduction allowed me to guess both the secret and the ultimate consequence of the secret about 1/3 of the way into the book. That left an awful long period of waiting for the culmination of the story.

I think that if Zach and Beth were trying to unravel the secret more purposefully and were getting closer, the suspense would have built and kept me engaged in the process. However, Zach didnít even know there was a secret until about 30 pages from the end, and Beth only discovered it a few pages sooner.

This weaving in and out is a little disconcerting. Here is the pattern of the book: secret, discovery of love, a little more secret, sexual tension buildup, introduction of leukemia patient, more love story and finally the secret, leukemia and love story climax all at once. The mingling of the various plot lines could have been more fluid.

In the end, mainly on the strengths of Zach as a leading man and Beth as an intelligent heroine, and the humor thrown about, The Marriage Prescription is a satisfying and fun romance.

--Shirley Lyons


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