Best of Friends by Natalie Dunbar
(Genesis/Indigo, $8.95, PG-13) ISBN 1-58571-007-5
Mariah McCleary and Ramon Richards have been the best of friends since their college days at the University of Michigan. They have been friends through good times and bad. Ramon and Mariah have supported each other=s personal and professional ambitions. When Mariah became engaged to Cotter Eastwood, a prominent Detroit doctor, Ramon was there. And, when her fiancé called off the wedding, Ramon was still there.

Mariah was grateful to have a friend like Ramon and she loved him like a brother. Unfortunately, gratitude and fraternal love are not exactly what he had in mind. “I don’t want to be your brother.”

Mariah=s short-lived engagement forced Ramon to acknowledge his feelings for her. He even told her how he felt -- directly and indirectly -- to no avail. Although Mariah was attracted to Ramon, she decided that it was best that she not act on her feelings.

A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing and Mariah was aware of Ramon=s track record with women. She was afraid that after an intimate relationship with Ramon, he would tire of her or they would do irreparable damage to their friendship. ”There was no way she would put such a valuable friendship on the line because of lust”

Mariah finds other distractions to help her keep her mind off Ramon. There are complications with her business and with expansion plans to deal with. And then there is the reemergence of Cotter Eastwood in her life. Ramon is determined to convince Mariah that their romance and friendship can peacefully co-exist.

Best of Friends is the debut novel of Michigan author Natalie Dunbar. She has created believable main characters worth spending time with. The chemistry and banter between Mariah and Ramon is believable. Best of Friends is set in metropolitan Detroit and the author has sketched in places that will be familiar to those who know the area. She has also added to the interest in the main characters by showing them as young professionals at work. Mariah owns a growing modeling agency and Ramon is a second-generation lawyer.

Strong secondary characters, particularly Ramon=s parents and Mariah=s co-workers add more definition to the main characters, without getting in the way of the action. There is an interesting secondary romance readers will want to know more about.

Natalie Dunbar is off to a great start with Best of Friends. There are a few minor flaws that plague many first-time authors. This is a strong three-heart read. Natalie Dunbar is a good storyteller who shows promise. Best of Friends is worth a look and has earned the author a spot on my Emerging Authors List.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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