I Do! by Robyn Amos, Gwynne Forster
and Shirley Hailstock
(Arabesque, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN: 0-7860-0486-X
***
Gwynne Forster and Shirley Hailstock, two of Arabesque's veteran authors, team up with newcomer Robyn Amos in I Do!, a Valentine's Day anthology. The premise for the collection evolved from an ad in the New York Times for a contest sponsored by the Rainbow Room Restaurant in Rockefeller Center. Winners received a Valentine's Day wedding in the restaurant and an all-expense paid honeymoon.

The three couples in this anthology were required to submit a 100-word essay explaining why they wanted to have their weddings in the Rainbow Room. Each couple has an ulterior motive for winning.

Tracy Fields and John Fitzgerald, the main characters in "After Midnight" by Robyn Amos, have been best friends since age 8. At 18, John was Tracy's back-up escort when her date hurt his ankle prom night. At 28, they're still best friends.

Tracy's an artist, working as a temporary. In her current assignment, she's a wedding coordinator. John's a screenwriter, working as a journalist and comedy writer. Tracy and John are avoiding taking "real jobs," while they wait for their "big breaks" to come.

John and Tracy are also avoiding their mutual attraction that began with a kiss after midnight on prom night ten years ago. When John's newspaper column is cancelled, they enter the contest on a lark, pretending to be engaged and hoping to win the $50,000 in cash and prizes to fund their professional dreams. Tracy needs a little "motivation" to get her creative juices flowing. Fiction soon becomes fact and the couple give in to the inevitable.

As the "new kid on the block," Robyn Amos proves she can hold her own when paired with more seasoned writers. The characters are funny and likable and we can't help pulling for them to get together.

Gwynne Forster's "A Perfect Match" is proof that opposites do attract.

To hear her tell it, 35-year-old Susan Andrews has the best of all possible worlds: a six-figure salary, a $200,000 condo, the respect of her peers and she doesn't have to be home by 6 p.m. to cater to the demands of a husband and children. But, if life's so perfect, why does Susan cry herself to sleep? She's a lawyer who whines about not being able to find a "lovable, eligible man would could appreciate an educated, independent woman."

Susan's problem is she wouldn't recognize such a man if he sat next to him in a car. Enter August Jackson, a successful businessman who's looking for an educated, independent woman to share his life and love. Susan's clairvoyant Aunt Grace, who "dabbles in astrology" when she's not driving a livery in New York, is convinced they're a perfect match.

While you don't have to be clairvoyant to see why Susan is attracted to August, it's hard to understand what he sees in Susan. She's an unromantic, uncooperative, superficial shrew. And, although they initially disagree on everything, love finds a way.

There are two interesting, yet distracting subplots in this story. However, because of the premise and length restrictions, they aren't fully developed. Forster's excellent Christmas story, "Christopher's Gift," is an better example of what she can do.

Shirley Hailstock's fans will remember broadcast journalist Peter Lawrence from her novel, Legacy. Peter has returned to New York, after a series of overseas assignments, to claim his fiancée, Serena Coleman in "The Engagement."

Peter and Serena have been in love for twenty years. They became engaged as college sophomores fourteen years ago. Friends jokingly compare them to Nathan Detroit and Miss Adelaide, the chronically engaged couple in "Guys and Dolls."

Peter's back and he's ready to get married; Serena isn't. In two decades, she's watched her parents' and friends' marriages bite the dust. She is afraid marriage will doom their perfect relationship. While Peter is unable to convince Serena, a near tragedy and hospital bureaucracy, move her in the right direction.

I Do! had two strikes against it from the beginning. Three good writers were handicapped by an extremely restrictive premise and it shows. As a result, the contest takes a back seat to the stories each tried to tell. Placing the stories in New York's Rainbow Room, put an extra burden on readers to connect with the setting.

The collection also had big shoes to fill. A Valentine Kiss, Arabesque's first collection, featured a trio of five-heart stories by Carla Fredd, Brenda Jackson and Felicia Mason about lovers who find each other despite the efforts of well-meaning matchmakers. It was followed last year by Love Letters in which Donna Hill's "Masquerade," an excellent high-tech romance about lovers who find each other on the Internet, is joined by two more traditional love stories about second chances by Rochelle Alers and Janice Sims. Alone, or compared with its predecessors, I Do!, doesn't quite connect.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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