First Kiss

by Marilyn Pappano, 2000, Contemporary Romance
Bantam, $5.99, 360 pages, ISBN #0553582313
For all the titles (and links) in the Bethlehem series, click here

Sensuality:Warm

Do you remember the girl in high school who was easy? We talked about her, we watched her, we ridiculed her, but we also envied her. She always had a date, was in demand, and seemed so free. She wasn't afraid to give guys what they wanted, nor was she afraid to take what she wanted. Have you ever wondered what happened to that girl? Or perhaps you were that girl?

The heroine of First Kiss was that type of girl. Holly McBride was the easy lay, she was the girl all the guys wanted to be with at least once, but who never received an invitation to a date's home or was asked out twice. This story explores how the "easy chick" grew up to be successful, independent, and very alone.

Holly owns a successful inn in Bethlehem, New York. One of her loyal customers is Tom Flynn, multimillionaire and bachelor extraordinaire, who uses her inn as a home base when he is in town, which is often. Holly is very interested in Tom, but he seems to view her as part of the inn's fixtures. She is then invited to an intimate gathering celebrating Tom's birthday; she thinks she has been invited strictly for the cake. When it is time for Tom to blow out the candles on his cake and make a wish, Holly secretly urges him to wish for her. And in that moment, their lives start to change.

Tom Flynn has attained every goal he ever set for himself. Every year on his birthday, he retrieves the list of goals from the previous year, and crosses off his achievements. On his 40th birthday, however, Tom finds two remaining goals: get married and fall in love. Are these goals even attainable? Tom wants to cross them out, but he's never given up before; if he had he wouldn't be the man he was today. But is there even a woman out there he wants to spend time with, not to mention marry? And love, what does he know about love? But he looks at Holly over the candles of his birthday cake and something happens; an awareness blooms.

After the birthday party, Tom and Holly return to the inn. They both feel an attraction, but don't act on it. Tom feels that Holly deserves more, Holly is just confused - sex is something at which she excels. Doesn't he want her? Tom is confused as well. How does he approach this task of finding a wife? Tom decides that he will work on their attraction like he works on his business dealings. He will try dating Holly, because after all, he's never given dating 100% of his attention, and all of his attention has netted him great things before. So Tom asks Holly for a date. Thus begins the courtship of two socially stunted people.

Tom soon finds that all Holly wants is the easy route - sex, a quick affair - and although Tom is certainly not opposed to sex, he realizes he wants to wait. No, he needs to wait: he needs it to be special. But how can he keep Holly at bay when she is constantly coming on to him? Should he keep her at arm's length? He's decided he wants more; he wants the whole shebang. Holly, however, doesn't believe she has anything but sex to offer. If Tom doesn't want her in that way, then what else can she give? Her own mother didn't love her, so how could Tom? Tom sets forth to change Holly's mind and their lives.

The characters in this book were well developed and I found I cared about all of them: Holly's arrogant, sad alcoholic mother, the bumbling new employee of the inn, the people in the town, even the strange ladies who talk to Holly and Tom at odd times. But best of all was the story of Holly and Tom: their past, present and future. I didn't want to stop reading about them, and I wished for more when I turned the last page.

After reading this book, I realized First Kiss is one of a series. Some of the characters in the book who sounded so interesting are presented in other books about the town of Bethlehem, NY. But in no way did this book need the other books in the series to pave the way. I never felt lost, but I was very glad to know there were more books. I for one will order the others immediately. If you like contemporary love stories, I can wholeheartedly recommend First Kiss.

-- Joyce Kleine

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