The Soft Touch
by Betina Krahn, historical (1999)
Bantam, $6.50, ISBN 0-553-57618-6

The back blurb has me almost terrified to open Betina Krahn's The Soft Touch. The phrases disastrously tenderhearted and has terrible trouble trying to say "No" are big no-nos in my book, conjuring up images of a self-effacing martyr who lets everyone tramples and does the can-can dance all over her.

As the blurb mentioned earlier, Diamond Wingate, the richest woman in Baltimore if not the State, has way too much money and too soft a heart. Raised to be a philanthropist, she finds herself at the extreme end of the spectrum, practically throwing checks at anyone who sums up an emotional speech to win her over. Hence Ms Wingate is swamped by Tom, Dick, Harry, and their spouses, mothers, and children clamoring for money. By some strange twist the more money she throws away the more she gets back in return.

Her total opposite, rough and most ungentlemanly Barton "Bear" Kincaid is in need of funds to start a railway project, and no banks want to finance his project. He seeks out Baltimore's famous Soft Touch Diamond Wingate and sparks fly.

Diamond is really a wimp at the start of the book. She can't say no, she really can't! I have no idea what her guardians fed her during her childhood, but this woman is so wimpy she couldn't even tell her three persistent suitors to scram and leave her alone. If there is any woman ripe for those Get-A-Backbone seminar scams, it's Diamond. Luckily she toughens up considerably as the story progresses, a good thing or I'd have copied this book into my Words program and add in extra scenes where Mrs Giggles, the Wingate housekeeper, knocks some sense into this woman in a most PG-13 violent manner.

Because of Diamond's inability to kick the three annoying suitors out of her life, she finds herself torn to shreds in the middle of a ball as those three obnoxious wimps bicker over her. Altogether now: "You asked for it!" Bear, who has already been playing exchange-naughty-glances-and-repartees with Diamond, steps in without thinking and before one can say marriage of convenience they're hitched.

Here is where things get irritating. Bear, who just cannot straighten up and ask Diamond for a loan for whatever silly reasons, plays sneaky and signs the loan forms himself, loaning himself money from Diamond's company. Cowardly scumbag? Definitely. Diamond finds out, all hell hits the roof. When Diamond tries to mend things up, this man either: (a) takes her to bed or (b) swells up in hurt ego and pride and savages her publicly for rescuing him financially. Oh, he redeems himself at the end - barely - but way too late to save himself from being knocked so many times (maybe more, I stopped counting after eight) in the head with my imaginary rolling pin. I'm sure the thonk thonk thonk sound from his head is an indication of the amount of lead in that thick skull. Did I mention that I don't like Bear much?

Usually an unlikeable hero would be the death knell of a book to me, but in this case, I'm willing to make an exception because I enjoy The Soft Touch thoroughly. In a perverse way, Bear and Diamond are perfect for each other. Diamond needs a Big Daddy figure, an authority in her life to be her backbone and her No, if you get what I mean. And Bear needs some softness in his life. Who's softer than Diamond (silk drawers doesn't count)? When they're together, when Bear isn't acting all Neanderthal and Diamond isn't doing her free-for-all-grab-your-easy-cash-here act, they are actually fun to read.

While The Soft Touch does have its flaws, in no way do they deter me from enjoying myself.

Rating: 80

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