Once a Father by Marie Ferrarella
(Silh. Int. Mom.# 1132, $4.50, PG) ISBN# 0-373-27202-2
Once a Father leads off the Intimate Moments newest series entitled “The Lone Star Country Club.” It’s found in Mission Creek, Texas, and was founded by equal contributions of the Carson and Wainwright families. These families no longer speak to each other.

Ben Stone is Chief of Police in Mission Creek and has entered into a silent partnership with El Jefe, a Central American drug lord. Ben is responsible for the money-laundering end of El Jefe’s drug business, and has gathered a coterie of loyal followers to implement his actions.

Some of the town’s leading citizens had gone to military school together, served in the Gulf War together and are gathered on the golf course as the book opens. Their Marine Commander Phil Westin initiated the golf game as a chance to get them together and let them know that he was being sent to Central America to figure out how to bring El Jefe down. The U.S. had become aware that their little town was providing El Jefe with a new route for drugs to the U.S.

The group had reservations for lunch at the Country Club Grille, but because they were running late, the explosion that ignited that area of the country club did not take their lives. Instead a single couple eating early died, leaving their small son Jake as their sole survivor.

And Jake only made it because of the bravery of firefighter Adam Collins. Adam lost his family to an electrical fire he did not prevent; now he feels that he truly has nothing left to lose. When Jake momentarily regains consciousness he clings to Adam, which stirs enough of a response from Adam that he accompanies him to the hospital. The fact that he is about the same age and even looks like the son that he lost probably contributes to his reaction

Dr. Tracy Walker’s specialty is pediatric burn care so Jake is placed in her care and Tracy and Adam meet. Marie Ferrarella has expertly constructed characters of many layers, all with a myriad of problems that readers genuinely care about. Tracy and Adam are poles apart. He is withdrawn and still guilty and grieving over his family lost two years ago, and Tracy with a different load of baggage is bubbly, vibrant and a classic extrovert.

Adam investigates and finds that Jake has no next of kin to take him when he leaves the hospital. The he learns that Jake is not speaking - apparently a victim of traumatic aphasia. In reality this malady works to keep Jake alive as the people who set the explosion know that Jake saw them right before it went off.

Adam realizes the only other person who has an interest in Jake is Tracy and they work out a plan to alternate caring for him until perhaps some distant second cousin can be found.

Although the reader can guess the rest, the pleasure of this journey is in the getting there. Reading about warm, caring people and watching relationships mature under stressful situations is a pleasurable way to spend an afternoon. As usual, Ferrarella’s dialogue is in voice, crisp, and moves the story along without ever bogging down in the emotional angst each brings to the relationship. Once a Father is a hearty recommend for a skilled writer.

--Thea Davis

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