After the Vows by Leslie Esdaile, T.T. Henderson & Jacquelin Thomas
(Genesis Press, $10.95, PG-13) ISBN 1-58571-047-4
I read a lot of romances. After the end of a romance, many characters stay with me and I often wonder how their stories turned out. In interviews for TRR I like asking authors to project beyond the close of a novel and tell me what happened beyond the HEA. I=m often amazed by the depth of the responses I get. It’s romance; it’s fantasy.

After nearly 25 years of marriage, I have learned to separate fantasy from reality. I learned that “Happilies” come in spurts and series and “ever after” should really be called “one day at a time.” In short, HEA is not a destination, but a journey. It is that spirit that flows through After the Vows, an anthology of three stories edited by Donna Hill.

After the Vows is a realistic romance collection that examines the relationships of three couples whose marriages have tested their commitment each other. The stories look at the verities of loving for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health and forsaking all others. It is what happens after children, careers, temptation, illness, finances and egos enter into the mix. In each story in After the Vows, the heroine faces a crisis of confidence that requires the hero to devise a workable solution they can both accept in order to save their relationship.

In Leslie Esdaile’s “Time Enough for Love,” Alexandra and Edward Wingate are heads of a merged family in which both have children from previous marriages. When the story begins, successful television producer Alexandra balks at leaving work to go the spacious six-bedroom family home. “It was the thought of crossing the threshold, and of going inside where she’d literally suffocate.” Alex and Edward love each other, but when the two became one, most of what was once Alex was discarded. Activities and people she once enjoyed are no longer part of her life as she becomes “overwhelmed” by the demanding Wingate household responsibilities thrust upon her.

One encounter with Edward is particularly telling: “You got a live-in babysitter, a cook, a maid, a work-function escort to university events . . . you got another sizeable income to help with your overall savings plan, a puppy-and someone to clean up after it, and sex on demand.” When their sex live begins to suffer, Edward decides it is time for action.

“Something So Right” by T. T. Henderson looks at the lingering effects of one partner’s infidelity on a marriage. Camille and Devon Knight have been married for eighteen years. Several years before the story begins, Devon had a short-lived affair with a co-worker during a business trip. Although he has long-since apologized to his wife, given up his career for a job in which he no longer travels on business, his wife has never forgiven him. Instead, she has thrown herself into her work and has become the primary breadwinner for the family. Their two children will soon be going off to college, and Camille has been offered an executive position in another city. She has asked Devon for a divorce that he refuses to give her because he still loves her.

Jacquelin Thomas’ “Skin Deep” is the story of Reva and Edward Anderson, high school sweethearts who married during college. After nearly twenty-five years together, the Anderson’s crisis was caused by Reva’s diagnosis of breast cancer and the double mastectomy that followed. Two years after the operation, her cancer is in remission. Reva has declined both reconstructive surgery and counseling. The change in her physical appearance has altered her outlook. She and her husband have not had a sexual relationship since before the mastectomy and she has moved out of the home they shared with their daughter to move in with her widowed mother.

While Edward wants to give his wife time and space to heal, he feels her withdrawing more and more. He is determined to fight for their marriage despite the fact that Reva wants a divorce because she is no longer a “whole woman.” When he suggests they spend the summer alone together at his family’s getaway in Rhode Island, Reva refuses, then relents. Edward is hopeful that the time away from California will help them resolve things between them. “Skin Deep” is an open look at issues beyond self-image that breast cancer survivors face.

After the Vows is an excellent collection of equally weighted stories, four heart stories, that realistically look at an aspect of marriage. It is a look at the issues parties bring into and acquire during their relationships. As a character in the Esdaile story points out, we all have some type of baggage - Samsonite, DKNY designer collection or military duffel bags - and there is no shame in admitting it and working to resolve it.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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