Happily Ever After
by Tanya Anne Crosby, historical (1999)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-78574-9


I wouldn't have known from the stupid cover, but this book is a really grand seafaring adventure of a romance featuring one of the best heroes this side of Indiana Jones and one of the best heroines ever.

Sophia Vanderwahl isn't a happy woman. She has just received a letter from her fiance Harlan. The letter isn't meant from a woman of delicate bearing like Sophia, but an acquaintance of Harlan, Jonathon Preston, in a plan to woo Sophia for himself backfired, has shown Sophia a letter where Harlan urges Jon to join him in his "exploration" in Yucatan, which is actually nothing more than an orgy with South American women. Harlan has gloatingly announced that he isn't too ready to give up the charms of the women and he's decided to extend the engagement to Sophia by another six or seven years. While Sophia's daddy continues funding his "important business", of course.

Something snaps in Sophia. She has been playing the perfect daughter all her life, hiding her free-spirited nature in order to please her family and everyone around her. She tries her best to be perfect because everyone around her seems to value her less if she's not perfect. All her pent-up resentment finally burst from the dam that is her spirit. She quietly folds the letter and thanks Jon. After Jon has left, she packs her bags and head out to get a ship that would take her to the Yucatan continent. Then, when she finds that good-for-nothing son-of-a-mangy-female-dog, she is going to kill him.

Jack MacAuley is a loud, blustery explorer headed for the same place Sophia is headed. Indeed, he has a grudge with Harlan who had stole his research and with the entire elitist academia in general. He intends to prove the old grubbers wrong. Harlan has asked Jon to board Jack's ship, and this is how Sophia knows of him. She offers him $10,000 if he would take her along with him.

There they go. The Heiress and The Foul Mannered Explorer, only that, oh, they are so fun and perfect together. They really get off on the wrong foot as he suspects her of spying on him for her fiance while she trying her best to pooh-pooh his macho nonsense. But they are too crazy about each other to think straight.

I love Jack. he is just perfect as the Indiana Jones sort of hero. Loud, gruffy, but a total softie inside, he is a commoner who is still smarting from the fact that his scholarship and grant was pulled back to cater to a lazy wastrel like Harlan. As he slowly realizes that Sophia's more than the usual spoiled ice princess, there's no silly angst trip on his part. He loves her, he knows it, and darn if he would let her go to that cheap scum Harlan. Here is a man who is really a hero. He is funny, devoted, and is intelligent to boot.

Likewise, Sophia is simply wonderful as an extraordinary woman who refuses to feel any heartbreak over Harlan. Harlan's a scum, he blew his chance with her, end of story, Now, if only she could just get him alone with her and that super giant garden clippers... She is too vibrant to be jaded with men, and she is intelligent enough to realize that she is finally free when she's with Jack and the crew of Miss Deed.

I especially had a time of my life reading about their bickering that soon turns into affectionate banters and eventually unrestrained kisses that would be simply disgusting if not for the circumstances. I haven't read such wickedly funny yet heartwarming exchanges in a romance for quite awhile. And oh, there's really one very daring scene where Jack is a reluctant but enthralled voyeur as he watches Sophia flying solo (so to speak), separated from him only by a thin piece of cloth. Oh my. Pass me the iced drink. This scene manages to be elegantly poetic and simply scorching without me, the reader, feeling like a total sleazebag for reading it. Wow.

By Chapter 2, I have this big goofy ear-to-ear grin on my face and I didn't stop giggling and sighing until long after I finished this book. That's more than enough for me to reserve a place on my keeper shelf for this book.

Rating: 90


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