A Bachelor Falls

His Shotgun Wedding

How to Catch a Cowboy

If Wishes Were...Weddings

The Playboy’s Office Romance
by Karen Toller Whittenburg
(Harl. American #914, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-16914-0
I liked this story, although I don’t think Ms. Toller Whittenburg did as much with it as she might have. It was enjoyable reading, and I liked the concentration on the romance, but there was very little of the kind of tension that transforms a book from pleasant to compelling.

Lara Richmond has been the assistant to the head of Braddock Industries for over five years when Adam Braddock quits to get married and travel around the world with his free-spirited bride. Lara believes that she deserves to be named the next CEO.

Okay, right here I have to stop and make an editorial comment. Only in Romance Land does the president’s assistant even think about getting promoted past all the senior executives to run the company. I understand that this is a fantasy, but this is about as likely as the president being succeeded by a goldfish. If she’s that qualified, why is she an executive assistant and not a vice president? Haven’t we moved past the point where the woman is the nurse, but not the doctor? The secretary, but not the boss?

To Lara’s horror, the person they do appoint to run the family business is Adam’s younger brother, Bryce. He has never worked a day in his life and their relationship to date has consisted mostly of trading insults any time they meet socially. She thinks he’s a shallow playboy and, while he finds her beautiful as well as capable, he resents her uptight contempt.

Assuming he’s going to fire her, Lara tries to resign. Bryce surprises her by asking her to stay. Although Lara doesn’t deign to notice it, he also displays an enormous amount of patience with her patronizing treatment, which is both unprofessional and immature. (Hmm, maybe this has something to do with why she’s not running things…)

Even before he can start to win her respect at the office, however, Bryce’s attitude toward Lara’s young nephew begins to change her opinion of him. Lara has recently taken temporary custody of four-year-old Calvin because his irresponsible parents cannot care for him properly. She’s driving herself crazy juggling parenting and workaholism. Bryce not only has an easy rapport with the little boy, he is also surprisingly (to Lara) sympathetic to the difficulties and changing priorities she faces.

In fact, Lara’s prejudices are the only real obstacle in this story. It was interesting to watch Bryce turn her thinking around, but the fact that she stops being narrow-minded really isn’t much of a victory for either character or reader.

Other than overcoming the aforesaid prejudices, Bryce doesn’t have any mountains to climb at all. After waiting around all his adult life for someone to hand him the opportunity to prove himself, the opportunity is, in fact, simply handed to him. Even though he wasn’t working, he was apparently paying attention because he’s handling his new responsibilities quite easily. Not only does he not have anything to learn from Lara, he trumps her with the contacts and inside knowledge he’s picked up during his long and busy social life.

To his credit, Bryce is a lovely romantic lead, although perhaps “hero” would be a bit strong. He is confident without being arrogant (although Lara doesn’t quite see it that way), and, once he realizes his feelings for Lara, is determined to win her. I had no problem believing that his honest and straightforward approach would at first intrigue her in spite of herself, then slowly win her over. Who, really, could resist such open admiration and charming determination?

Lara did change, and I enjoyed watching it happen. Although her business persona was not terribly likable at first, her honest love for Calvin and determination to care for him even though she felt inadequate reassured me that she had unplumbed depths. She did not cling to her prejudices just to draw out the story, but gave, an inch at a time, as she learned to trust both Bryce and herself.

So, while I enjoyed the story and applaud the lack of artificial conflict, I thought some element of real tension would have sharpened the focus and gripped the reader a little more tightly.

--Judi McKee

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