His-and-Hers Family by Bonnie K. Winn
(Harlequin American #720, $3.99, PG-13) ISBN: 0-373-16720-2
****
Los Angeles businessman Blake Matthews has entered the Twilight Zone. It's called Twin Corners, Texas. After a quick check of his surroundings, Blake is certain he'll be featured in a supermarket tabloid story: "Businessman Abducted By Out-Of-Step Aliens."

When the local hotels are booked for "Rodeo Days," he finds lodging in a boardinghouse run by Cassandra "Cassie" Hawkins, a divorcee with three children. The children willingly do their homework, help with household chores and pick up odd jobs to help their mother make ends meet.

It doesn't take long for Blake, a widower with three children of his own, to realize that he, not Cassie, is out of synch. He measures his indulged big-city children to the low-tech, small-town Hawkins family. He finds that Cassie's are "motivated, goal-oriented, respectful, and at first he'd thought they were Stepford children programmed robots. But over the past few days, he'd discovered they were also fun-loving, happy kids." Unfortunately, he can't bottle her secret and rub a little on his own kids, he muses.

When Cassie's debts continue to mount and the bank is about to foreclose on her home, Blake makes her an offer she eventually can't refuse. She rents her home in Twin Corners and agrees to work as a nanny at his home in Los Angeles for a year. Her children will have access to the type of quality education that will make them more competitive in the college market.

You can take a girl our of Twin Corners, Texas, but can you talk Twin Corners out of the girl? Blake hopes you can't. His children need the type of single-parenting miracle Cassie has been able to perform with her own family.

Blake's children a teenage son and nine-year old twin boys are high-spirited, to say the least. The first night is a nightmare for Cassie who thinks, "fantasies never contained tuna casserole or resentful children." When Cassie is superglued to the shower faucet, she discovers Blake's brood is more like the "Addams' Family" than the "Brady Bunch."

For Cassie, the children always come first. She fights her growing attraction to Blake because "she was a mother, not a woman. And it wouldn't do to start thinking like one." Eventually, love conquers all despite the snakes in Blake and Cassie's garden of Eden: old secrets, a snobbish sister-in-law and a blackmailing ex-high school boyfriend.

Winn's pacing and character development are excellent. The story moves at just the right pace so that the reader gets to know Cassie, Blake and each of the six children who are an essential part of the plot. To the author's credit, Cassie's children are virtually unchanged by their new surroundings. The family values their mother instilled are just as apparent in Los Angeles as in Twin Corners. The children behave predictably. Secondary characters don't clutter up the action.

Winn's dialogue is believable. Only a woman like Cassie, whose fried chicken won blue ribbons in the county fair for three consecutive years, would describe Blake as a "mouthwatering man, made-to-order for her fantasies."

His-And-Hers Family is a good read.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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