Blushing Pink

Plum Girl

Just Peachy by Jill Winters
(New American Library, $13.95, R) ISBN 0-451-21506-0
Peach Kelley is a creative design specialist who has an Emma Woodhouse-like belief in her ability to know people and their needs, especially where their love life is concerned. Her married sister Lonnie (whose romance is told in Plum Girl), her roommate, her co-workers, even the latter's middle-aged parents are all recipients of her advice. But unlike Jane Austen's heroine and her later-day incarnation as Amy Heckerling's Cher Horowitz, Peach is not entirely clueless about what makes a good relationship: her insights, like her suggestions, are normally correct.

And she is not completely wrong about the right man for her: Adam Quinlan, a newly hired computer expert who prefers solving math problems to affronting messy situations involving human emotions.

Although strongly attracted to Peach, Adam is wary. He is in a long-distance relationship, albeit one that is clearly in its death-throes. Even without it, he is not sure he wants to be with anyone, let alone someone as inquisitive and interfering as Peach. But what will be, will be, and so begins a sweet courtship.

And I do mean that quite literally. Adam drops off Peach's favorite Blow Pops on a daily basis, and she treats him to oatmeal cookies, giant-sized Snicker bars and other snacks. While giving each other massive sugar buzzes (apparently, sublimation by another name does taste so sweet) and, as Adam points out, potential cavities, they continue to assure themselves they are "just friends." Nevertheless, the attraction between them grows until they finally fall into bed. At this point, it is the readers' turn for a few spicy treats. But their sugar high inevitably crashes when another rather predictable rift comes between them.

Sweets are not the only thing that brings Peach and Adam together. She suspects her matchmaking may have had a deadly outcome when one of her coworkers mysteriously disappears after she sets him up on a blind date. Whereas no one else wants to make much of this, she drags the normally cautious Adam into a missing persons investigation that uncovers the hidden lives of other colleagues before turning into a murder mystery. Peach identifies and follows most of the leads. Adam, for the most part, provides technical support. But he is almost always there to catch her when she falls, proving once again that alpha males do not have the monopoly on sexy heroes.

Peach's investigation takes her through several fairly recognizable red herrings, but the final solution to the missing person mystery comes as a surprise. This, along with engaging true-to-life characters, delicious writing and witty dialogue, almost pushed my rating up to a four. But the slightly overdone and repetitive course of the romance held it back at a three. Winters has nevertheless sold me on plums, raspberries and now peaches. She leaves me hankering for a taste for more. What will it be? Strawberry Sunday? Apricot Crumble? Or perhaps plain old Apple Pie? Whatever it is, serve it up. I'm a taker.

--Mary Benn

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