Substitute Daddy by Kate Welsh
(Silh. Spec. Ed. #1542. $4.75, PG) ISBN 0-373-24542-4
****
Substitute Daddy is a delightful story about a woman, her baby and the baby’s uncle joining together to make a family. The exciting thing is that although the ending is predictable, the story is well-written, innovative and enjoyable.

Melissa Abell agreed to serve as a surrogate mother for her twin sister, Leigh, and husband Gary Costain. Just weeks after finding out the artificial insemination worked, Gary and Leigh were killed in a car accident. Left with no family, Melissa is determined to have the baby and raise her for Gary and Leigh.

Brett Costain is Gary’s younger brother. He and Melissa met only once before, at Gary and Leigh’s wedding. At the reception, Brett decided to seduce Melissa, only to discover mid-seduction that she was both naïve and a virgin. He broke things off, and hurt Melissa badly. Now, when he discovers Melissa is pregnant with his brother’s child he decides he has to help. This twist on the relationships - Melissa is the real mother and Brett is the uncle - is a nice plot device which is rarely seen.

Melissa stubbornly refuses help from him or at least she wants to refuse it. She struggles with her finances. She can support herself and the baby, but has limited funds for all the work needing to be done on the buildings and her home.

Brett is rich, but his reputation is one just like his father, whom Gary hated. That reputation is one of a womanizer, a cold person and a man who only cares about money. But Brett has been hiding his true self - a man who is starving for love, and his act was his attempt to get his father to love him. He has been the dutiful child in order to earn his parent’s love, while Gary turned his back on them, and sought out a better life.

As Brett takes a leave of absence from his law practice and moves to the Amish countryside of Maryland to be near Melissa, he discovers himself. Melissa learns a lot about herself too, as she struggles to start an antique store and establish her home decorating business. Who is the real Brett - the man she sees helping Amish farmers build a shop or the man Leigh described as a philanderer? Is Melissa the woman of his dreams, or will Brett resort to form and act like his father?

There is a lot to recommend this tale. For those of you who are traditional thinkers, Brett and Melissa do not jump into bed every time they feel the urge. Although both feel the physical needs, they are adult enough to realize there is more to their relationship. It is that emotional interaction that is the focus of the book.

The story moves at a believable pace. Brett makes several mistakes in his attempt to change. Melissa gets angry with him, but not unreasonably so. They talk and try to find the middle ground. The view of the Amish community is interesting and adds to the flavor of the romance. Once they realize they are in love, there is plenty to back up the feelings.

The only major distraction is the characterizations of Brett’s parents. These two are written as no-good snobs, and Brett uses their actions as reason for much of what is wrong with his life. The story could have been richer had these two people been presented with more depth and the turnaround of one at the end would have seemed less contrived.

But this is a minor distraction. I enjoyed watching Brett and Melissa muddle through their problems and end up happily ever after. Daddy Substitute is a good find for any reader.

--Shirley Lyons


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