Susan Elizabeth Phillips
2005, Contemporary Romance
Harper Collins, $24.95, 383 pages, Amazon ASIN 0060734558 Part of a series
Susan Elizabeth Phillips easily rates as one of my top three favorite romance authors. I mourned the ending of her Chicago Stars/Bonner Brothers series in 2001, and was therefore delighted to discover that Match Me If You Can not only provides us with a fascinating new twosome, but also features one of my all time favorite couples, Phoebe and Dan Calebow from It Had To Be You, as significant secondary characters, as well as Molly and Kevin Tucker from This Heart of Mine.
Given that Annabelle Granger can claim a variety of failed careers at the age of 31, she is more than determined to make the most of her latest opportunity. Her grandmother has just bequeathed Matches by Myrna, her struggling matchmaking business, to Annabelle, complete with an old computer and outdated client list. Changing the name to Perfect for You, Annabelle sees herself as a marriage facilitator rather than a matchmaker and hopes her highly competitive family will finally leave her alone once she succeeds. She lives in her grandmother’s old home, drives her grandmother’s old car, and largely deals with her grandmother’s old clients. But Annabelle has a plan – land a well-known, highly desirable male client, find him a wife, and just watch her business take off!
Heath Champion, owner of a leading sports management firm, has fought his way to the top one client at a time. A blue collar kid from a bad home, Heath attended college on a football scholarship, earned a law degree from Harvard, and then quickly established himself as one of the best sport agents in the country. Part of his plan for success includes marrying his ideal woman by the age of 35, but Heath decides that he is just too busy to contribute the time and effort necessary to find her. His wife would be the ultimate symbol of his accomplishments – the calm in his storm. She should be somewhere between 22 and thirty, polished, beautiful, sweet, domestic, athletic, brilliant, socially connected, submissive, and of course, hot. He decides to treat his search for a wife as he would any other part of his business by hiring Power Matches, the best matchmaking agency in Chicago that specializes in finding trophy wives for powerful, discriminating men who can’t find the time to do it themselves and are rich enough to pay their exorbitant fees.
Heath represents Kevin Tucker, the starting quarterback for the Chicago Stars, and, in an attempt to placate his wife Molly, agrees to meet with her good friend Annabelle concerning his search for a wife. Heath has no intention of using Annabelle’s matchmaking services since he's already signed with Power Matches and has no time to waste with his age deadline less than a year away. However, Annabelle is convinced that a match for Heath will make her reputation and refuses to take no for an answer. Heath can hardly believe he is allowing this badly dressed owner of such a screwball operation to strong-arm him into an introduction, but he reasons that Annabelle’s desperate earnestness deserves some reward and challenges her to bring her best candidate to meet him the following night for a twenty minute introduction. Both characters strongly captured my attention in this humorous opening scene – Annabelle is lovable as the queen of mishaps and Heath is the perfect picture of a commanding, sexy hero.
Much to Heath’s amazement, he is quite taken with Annabelle’s first candidate and finds himself signing yet another matchmaking contract even though he doesn’t have all that much confidence in Annabelle continuing to deliver such outstanding introductions. Still, two agencies providing prospective mates might prove advantageous.
Annabelle is a witty, captivating, and slightly eccentric character who now rates as my favorite heroine for 2005. I found myself thoroughly enjoying her candidness and her thought processes, which were sometimes downright hilarious. And Heath…he is just so darn sexy I discovered myself rereading many of his scenes. He definitely has a dominant personality, along with a penchant for bossiness, but he possesses enough positive traits to make him a well balanced character. He is quite manipulative to the point of aggravation at times, but his comeuppance is served in both small and large doses as needed. I found his training regimen for marital fidelity to be both funny and refreshingly unique for this type of hero.
Besides the secondary characters from previous books, Phillips serves up some new ones to savor. Portia Powers is an exceptional example – I cannot remember another quite like her and she won’t be easily forgotten. Bodie Gray, Heath’s chauffeur and close friend, brings upheaval into Portia’s life with his rough and demanding nature. Dean Robillard, the cocky Chicago Stars quarterback destined to take Kevin Tucker’s place upon retirement, looks to have definite hero potential. And Hannah, Sophie and Dan’s daughter, seems to have a story out there somewhere as well.
Susan Elizabeth Phillips delivers a dynamite book with Match Me If You Can. Her multidimensional characters deliver page after page of sparkling dialogue, laughs, and a few tears. Heath and Annabelle’s relationship evolves on many levels and generates a good bit of heat as well. The rigid plan each has developed for their success in life ultimately becomes their greatest struggle. It has been quite a while since I have found this much reading enjoyment packed into one book. It fits my definition of great contemporary romance in more ways than one.
-- Lea Hensley
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