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Crescent Blues Book ViewsSilhouette (Paperback) ISBN 0373197004

Clearly, I need to visit Mercy, Indiana. Shirley Jump's series follows the travails and romances of the occupants of this tiny Midwest town, which harbors more than its share of gorgeous young women and too-hot-to-touch guys.

Book: shirley jump, the bachelor's dare
In Jump's first novel, The Virgin's Proposal, rich, successful, hunky Matt Webster roars back to Mercy after a long absence and sweeps poor dumped-at-the-altar-but-beautiful Katie Dole to finally-wedded bliss. Matt alone merits a visit, but in The Bachelor's Dare we meet Katie Dole's brother, studly-playboy-with-a-good-heart Mark. And it seems more attractive Dole brothers wait in the wings to make us pant for future installments.

Disappointed in love and abused by men, Claire Richards wants nothing to do with Mark Dole when they find themselves competing in the same Survivor-inspired contest to win an RV. Claire and Mark grew up together with no love lost between them, or so Claire believes. She focuses her efforts on winning the behemoth and driving it straight out of town. Mark carries a shameful secret and a burning desire to make it right. He also harbors a long-smoldering attraction to Claire.

Sexual tension abounds as Claire and Mark take up residence in the RV along with 18 other contestants. Claire distrusts men in general and Mark in particular due to his well-earned playboy reputation. His constant innuendo annoys her, yet she feels drawn to his considerable charms. Little does she know, Mark wishes to leave his checkered past behind him and settle down with the stunning Claire. Mark's fumbling efforts to win the icy Claire as well as the RV takes the usual two-steps-forward-one-step-back course of romance novels everywhere.

The trick to writing a good category romance -- aside from creating characters who are so attractive that we love them, but not so perfect that we hate them -- is writing outstanding dialogue. Every glimmer of emotion, both overt and suppressed, must be expressed through the characters' words. Jump uses dialogue to tell us of Claire's heartaches, her ambivalence about Mercy, and her gnawing need for a new connection. Mark's talks with Claire and letters to his brother speak of his desire to actually become the man he only appears to be. Their words never come across as contrived or implausible.

The other trick to drawing the romance reader into the story is making it sexy. Jump's characters crackle with so much energy that the reader feels she may need to take a cold shower if they don't get together soon. Alas, Silhouette Romances contain no consummation scene, so we must be satisfied with the thunderous violin music we hear when our protagonists verge on happily-ever-after. If you dig that kind of pay-off, The Bachelor's Dare will leave you smiling. And wanting to visit Mercy, Indiana.

Jodi Forschmiedt

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