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    ASK MARIAH by Barbara Freethy

    Avon Contemporary Romance, 1997

    When a preschool teacher discovers she has an exact double, and that her "twin" died almost a year ago, she's got more than a mystery on her hands--she has twin girls who are convinced she is their mother and an irresistible attraction to their widowed father, Michael Ashton. The mysteries mount as Joanna Wingate comes to question the very foundations of her life and Michael realizes the warm Italian family he calls his own is riddled with lies and deceptions.

    Also entering into the mix is the twins' refusal to talk to their father, despite the fact they obviously love him, and a mysterious children's fortune-telling toy that gives uncannily accurate information to its young querants.

    This book had a promising start and a pleasing plot development. The romance was realistic, the conflict between the lovers daunting. But a predictable ending kept it from rising very far above the crowd. Also, the mystery of the strange fortune-telling "Mariah" was never adequately explained or integrated into the story, and the heroine's behavior seemed a bit juvenile at the crisis point--running away, playing the victim, etc. Still, even with these shortcomings, a readable and entertaining book.

    Three Stars

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