By Design
by Angela Weaver, contemporary (2003)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-439-0

The heroine on the cover is a dead ringer for my twenty-four year old niece aside from the skin color. Seriously! I show the book to her and her mother and we are all quite pleasantly amused at the remarkable similarity right down to the shape of the nose and the curve of the eyebrows.

Okay, having said that, Angela Weaver's debut contemporary romance By Design is a very pleasant read. There is some noticeable problem with the hero and pacing but this book is a noteworthy debut nonetheless.

Lauren Hughes is almost thirty and like all thirty-year olds in these kinds of stories, she is at a crossroads of sorts. When she was younger, she had a long list of things she wanted to do before thirty all planned out, and so far she has yet to travel around the world and find a Mr Right. She decides to go about completing the list before the big three-oh hits her.

Mr Right may or may not be Nicholas Randolph, an ex-professional football player, who has a bad start with Lauren. Lauren and he have a mutual friend, Alan (also a footballer), and two months ago when Alan was hospitalized, Nick mistook Lauren for a nosey groupie and had her tossed out of the hospital by security. He is attracted to her, however, and hiring Lauren, one of the best interior decorators around town, to renovate his house (while making sure that she doesn't know that she'll be doing his house, of course) is a nice excuse for him to get to know her a little better.

Lauren's firefighter fiancÚ died on duty and she has been wary of committing her heart to relationships ever since. Nick has been playing the field but now he wants to settle down, but alas Lauren is looking for someone safe and dependable. Nick isn't dependable in her opinion. Nick doesn't give up, however, and that's where my problem with him begins. Nick is so persistent that he often crosses the line into stalker territory. But more annoyingly, he seems to think that he knows what is best for her. I don't like how he and Alan try to convince Lauren not to see the world and instead play house with Nick instead. When Nick wonders late in the story why Lauren wants to see the world when he can give her everything she will ever need, my first thought is that she needs space and breathing room, two things Nick doesn't give her in his heavy-handed pursuit of her.

Still, the author does the right thing by having Lauren get on that plane. Even if she realizes in the end that she wants to be with Nick, Lauren at least realizes this on her own terms instead of merely kowtowing to Nick. I like Lauren, really. She may have familiar baggages but Ms Weaver manages to actualize Lauren's fear of losing someone she loves quite well to the point that Lauren comes off as a sympathetic character instead of merely another stereotypical heroine. Even Nick, who can be high-handed too many times, has his moments when he can be quite charming.

Ms Weaver has a nice way with scenes. "I love you" is an overused phrase in a romance novel but the author's romantic scenes in this book work very well because she has a way with words that bring to life the emotions her characters are feeling ("One kiss and work was history, denial philosophy, and the sensation of his tongue poetry"). She also takes the effort to put in extra details in a scene, such as the way Nick smiles at Lauren, that actualizes these scenes further.

I'm not too sure if the author focuses on the correct things in this novel though. Towards the late third of the book, the story starts to feel repetitious with Lauren giving Nick the push after a pull one time too many. Things become more interesting when Lauren hops onto a plane because at least then something different is taking place in the story. But the resolution to this takes place in only a few pages before the story ends for good. The conclusion is abrupt and feels rushed. I can't help wondering whether this story would be so much better if the author has cut short the middle portions of the book by a few chapters and used these chapters to flesh out Lauren's soul-searching in Morocco.

Despite the pacing problems and my problems with the hero, I find By Design an entertaining story. The writing is good, the chemistry is obvious, and the romance feels real. I'll be very interested to see what this author has to offer in the future.

Rating: 84

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