About That Man

After Tex

Along Came Trouble

Amazing Gracie

The Backup Plan

The Cowgirl and the Unexpected Wedding

Destiny Unleashed

Flamingo Diner

A Love beyond Words

Michael’s Discovery


The Unclaimed Baby

Flirting With Disaster
by Sherryl Woods
(Mira, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-7783-2238-6
Flirting With Disaster is the second book in Sherryl Woods’ “Low Country” trilogy, set in coastal South Carolina. It stands well on its own and the fact that I hadn’t read the first book wasn’t a detriment.

Privileged Southern belle Maggie Forsyth has spent her life trying to please her socialite parents while simultaneously trying to carve out her own niche as an upscale art gallery owner. Most of her previous relationships ended in disaster, so when staid, dependable Warren Blake asked her to marry him, Maggie said yes. Since Warren was the perfect husband in her parents’ eye, Maggie even convinced herself she loved him.

Except Warren calls off their engagement shortly before the wedding, realizing it would be a disastrous mistake. Rather than have an honest conversation with herself and give him a round of heartfelt thanks, Maggie, in a precursor of things to come, immediately brands him a traitorous snake. She huffs off to a cottage at the seashore to sulk, leaving her much-vaunted gallery in the hands of two shop assistants.

Maggie wasn’t exactly scoring Brownie points here, and it takes a while for things to improve. Soon she is visited by her best friend Dinah and her husband (featured in book one) and Warren himself, who try to convince her she needs to stop pouting and get on with her life. Dinah suggests she sign on as a volunteer to help build a house for a needy family. Dinah’s husband, Cord, is providing the project manager. Maggie reluctantly agrees. Besides, as she points out, she’s the only one with taste in this bunch, since she’s a gallery owner, after all.

Josh Parker comes from a low-rent background. His mother, Nadine, went from boyfriend to boyfriend, and they were always on the move, living in seedy motel rooms. Josh himself constantly stays in dumpy motels because “it reminded him of his so-called homes. That kind of history didn’t exactly qualify him to build anybody’s dream house.” (A motivation that made absolutely no sense to me. Is he wallowing in his misery, or what?) Josh’s expertise is historic restoration, but Cord is his boss, so now it looks like he’ll be building a house for a single mom and her three kids. The last thing Josh wants is to take on a rich socialite as a construction worker.

Maggie and Josh strike sparks, he assigns her to make sandwiches for the crew but not to do any work, and she insists on showing him the art gallery, which she restored herself. The idea that a woman with absolutely no training or experience could manage a professional-looking architectural restoration of a historic building stuck me as somewhat laughable, but Maggie insists she can use every power tool on the jobsite. As for the gallery, Maggie’s two salesgirls appear to have one brain cell between them, which makes her decision to leave the gallery in their care for a month rather suspect as well.

A local church sponsors the housebuilding project, and not all the members agree with the idea. Soon the project is threatened by a wealthy parishioner with connections to the local home inspectors. One of Maggie’s salesgirls, Ellie, is a talented artist who is being bullied by her jealous art-instructor boyfriend. In the middle of all this, Nadine shows up, much to Josh’s resentment. And Maggie finds her gallery is being threatened.

The secondary cast is far more interesting and lively than Maggie and Josh. Nadine is a hoot, and she’s the most natural character in the book. Her admission of her past mistakes and her unflagging optimism that life can be good is a stark contrast to Josh, who spends a good deal of the book acting like a martyr because of his rocky upbringing. Maggie, no great shakes in the maturity department, at one point tells him to grow up and get to know his mother, because she’s a darn nice person. As for Maggie, this is basically a story about her learning to stand up to her parents and choosing a man that suits her.

Mixed in with all this is the growing attraction between Josh and Maggie, who spend a good deal of time trying to deny that anything is happening between them. Eventually, lust overcomes denial. The last third of the book is the strongest, as Maggie and Josh cast off some of their baggage and begin to forge an emotional connection as well as a physical one.

The author sets up the final book in her trilogy with a budding attraction between the minister of the church and the single mother for whom the house is being built. It’s much to the author’s credit that she took Maggie from an unsympathetic, rather annoying trust-fund-baby to a more mature person the reader can genuinely care about. I don’t think she’ll have to work quite as hard with the final installment. Flirting With Disaster is pleasant enough entertainment, though not anything you’re likely to remember for very long.

--Cathy Sova

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