by Charlotte Hughes, contemporary (1995)
Loveswept, $3.50, ISBN 0-553-44495-6
Fannie Brisbane grew up on the wrong side of the track, but you wouldn't know that she has plenty of self-esteem issues from her sunny demeanor. The regulars of Griddle and Grill adore their favorite waitress, so they are willing to help her out when she is in a bind. You see, when she was sixteen, Fannie gave birth to a daughter, whom she then gave up for adoption. Recently, her daughter Mandy began corresponding with her, and Fannie can't help but to write back. Since Mandy is the adopted daughter of an important US officer and Mandy's family seems well off, Fannie can't help but to tell a few white lies about herself. Such as how she is married to a wealthy but caring husband, for a start. Don't look at poor Fannie like that - she really has issues about her past, and she doesn't want to drive away her daughter now that she has found Mandy again. So, when the story opens, Mandy wants to come visit Fannie. Cue plenty of "What shall I do?" hand-wringing.
Fortunately, the local rich bloke Hyram Bodine steps in. He's willing to lend Fannie the use of his fabulous mansion, as well as his son Clay if she needs a pretend-husband. Clay, as you can imagine, isn't amused when he learns of this, but Hyram sweetens the deal by offering Clay that piece of land that Clay has always wanted. As Clay plays along, he and Fannie begin to develop feelings for each other. What will happen now?
Husband Wanted has an unabashed "Sweet Little Miss Nobody Does Good" fairy tale feel to it - it's Pretty Woman without the prostitution angle, or Cinderella without the midnight curfew, depending on how one looks at it. Fannie's personality can be tad too sickeningly sweet at times, but that aspect of her fits the rest of the story beautifully. Clay can be a bit uneven at times, as his character seems to shift depending on the need for conflict. Sometimes he's wondering whether she is trying to cozy up to his father and be that man's latest gold-digging beau, sometimes he's being so sweet on Fannie, and Clay can go from one extreme to another from chapter to chapter. But on the whole, he does come off as a charming example of a cynical man who falls head over heels in love despite himself. He and Fannie have some very romantic moments here. Even the conflicts that arise - some make plenty of sense, some are just Fannie or Clay overreacting - are dealt with nicely here, with nothing being prolonged to stay past its welcome. The secondary characters are strictly romantic comedy archetypes, and I mean this in a good way because they are entertaining without being intrusive or over the top.
All in all, this is a most charming vicarious romantic trip. I guess things can be better here and there - such as a more cohesive portrayal of Clay, for example - but it does manage to work its magic pretty well. I like this one well enough.
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