Love Affair
by Bettye Griffin, contemporary (2001)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-138-3

By Chapter Three of Love Affair, I have plenty of misgivings. I am pretty sure this book will be a dud because the hero seems like a stereotypical jerk and the entire premise of this fake marriage story just doesn't hold water. By Chapter Six, I am charmed. By the last page, I realize I really, really like this book despite its legless plot and some reservations about the romance. Is this the sign of a good book? If anything, the author valiantly pulls through the story with the strength of her easy prose and humor alone.

The story is this: hotel consultant Austin Hughes needs to get a "wife" ASAP for his upcoming business trip to Africa. The clients are picky - seems they want only married couples around. There are a few qualified "wife" candidates around, but they are white, and Austin isn't keen on testing the extent of the clients' political correctness by flaunting a fake interracial marriage. That leaves only Desirée Mack, the junior and inexperienced new staff member.

Come on! If Austin is so intent of visiting Africa, can't he just pop some money for a plane ticket and take a few weeks off his work? There's a married couple in the company ready to be packed off to Africa, Austin even tells me, but apparently, he wants to go so badly, it's no other option but faked matrimony for him. Anyone else thinks it odd that he believes he can actually get away with this? Or that while he's taking pains not to offend the client in any way, here he is, faking a marriage? Hello? Anybody home?

Never mind the complete breakdown of professional ethics here. The book acknowledges that, hence I'm okay with that. Maybe we all need to break rules once in a while. But Austin is involved with Monique, even if it's a sex-sex-sex-only thing, and both he and Des are aware of that. Yet they have little qualms going at it while enjoying the sights of Africa. I'm still okay with that, until at one point Des asks Austin if he will still touch her *ahem* if he is really into Monique. And Austin lies and says, "No, of course." (He then tells me he is lying.)

For Des' sake, I hope Austin doesn't go on trips with female friends in the post-nuptial future. Remember Des, you are now the Monique in Austin's life, if you know what I mean.

See? I have so many reservations. I still do long after I finish this story. A relationship formed amidst deception is one thing, but this one is murky when it comes to drawing the lines between petty infidelity and screw-my-evil-other-woman-let's-luuurrrve infidelity-by-necessity territories. Still, if both parties are aware of what they are getting into, who am I to complain?

Still, ooh, it is so easy to like these both characters. Des and Austin, whatever their faults, click so well it's like watching the fuse of a recently-lit giant firecracker. Slowly... slowly... slowly... oh mama mia! The chemistry is so palpable that it is difficult at times for me to keep in mind that Monique at home may not be as happy as Austin and Des at this turn of events. And when Des and Austin talk, they talk and laugh and just get along so well, maybe it's just a destiny thing. Monique, get lost.

Of course, the author letting Monique keep her dignity at the end is a balm on my guilt for not standing up to this other woman's unceremonious dumping by her man. It's a good thing, because in a way, this whole tangled mess of a love story gets resolved with everyone at least pleased with his or her circumstances. Bye, bye Monique - hope you'll be happy one day. Maybe you can try to go with Austin on his next business trip. Sorry, I'm catty.

Love Affair is subversive. I know I shouldn't be condoning all these lies and naughty antics. But dang it, Austin and Des are nice, nice, likable people in a love story that, while isn't perfect, is just so sweet and charming that I can't resist.

Rating: 86

PS: Isn't the cover beautiful? Gosh, I have this hankering to paint my apartment in that lovely shade of brown. I want my own leopard print cushions too! And where does that female model get those gorgeous earrings? Can I trade my husband for that hunk?

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