Reading romances has exposed me to a number of interesting occupations. Such is the case in Bettye Griffin’s Love Affair.
Austin Hughes is a co-owner of Wallace and Hughes, a consulting company with offices in Colorado and New York. The firm does quality assurance work for the hospitality industry. Agents travel throughout the world, often under assumed names or profiles. They go on cruises, check into hotels, eat at restaurants and go to clubs and other entertainment to evaluate the facilities and the service. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.
Wallace and Hughes has just received a major contract to survey hotels in West Africa. It is quite a coup and “Ozzie” is excited about making his first trip to Africa. His joy is short-lived. The contract calls for “a married couple” to complete the assignment. The agent who normally works with Ozzie on such assignments is leaving the firm to get married. He is African-American and the only other Black woman who could accompany him on the trip and pose as his wife is Desirée Mack, a new junior agent in the Colorado office who has only been on the job a few weeks. “Desi” is hesitant to travel in such close quarters with a man who is also her boss, a man whom she has never met. Her reservations about accepting the assignment are very understandable. She also is excited about the prospects of making her first trip to Africa and reluctantly agrees to go.
Weeks later, Ozzie and Desi’s not so excellent adventure begins the moment she lands in New York. They attend a party together and Desirée gets to meet Ozzie’s current girlfriend. At the end of the evening, he abruptly kisses her and the two are left to ponder the implications of it. In Africa, they are thrown closer together and their attraction to each other continues to develop.
The relationship between Ozzie and Desi is vertically challenged (as if sharing names with 50s sitcom characters wouldn’t be a deterrent to ardor in and of itself). Theirs is not a height problem between them. It’s just that when their relationship is not on the horizontal - in bed -there is very little positive chemistry between them. In fact, Ozzie tends to get on Desi’s nerves at regular intervals. There is his covert chauvinism. She decries his attempts to speak and make decisions for her and she really gets frosted when he orders food for her without asking her preferences. Moreover, she has this thing about his Buick!
Likewise, I was quite never convinced of the extent of Ozzie’s true feelings for Desi even though the author says they exist. He seems emotionally stiff. At the opening of the novel, Ozzie was in the midst of a purely physical relationship with another woman that didn’t seem too much different to me from the one he shared with Desiree. What’s more he left her alone at his home to recuperate from a serious illness with very little to eat.
Several other elements of the story did not ring true for me. For one, Air Afrique flights are never “uneventful.” African-Americans making their first trip aboard immediately would have been taken by the all-Black flight crew - from pilots to flight attendants - and the fact that passengers applaud when the plane lands.
Quite a bit is made of Desiree’s “unusual” beauty. She is extremely dark with long, thick hair and has a gap between her teeth. The author is trying to make a point, but somehow the dots never quite connect and the reader is left to infer what is meant. The narrative also includes an inordinate amount of trivia and dictum. It’s interesting information that I will remember as I travel (like how to tell if the hotel changed the linen), but it did nothing to advance the story or the relationship between the main characters.
This is Bettye Griffin’s third novel, the first to take place outside Florida. The power of her work continues to be her creation of strong secondary characters. These characters are so interesting that they overshadow the hero and heroine. I’d love to read more about them and a spin-off is planned for one couple. The author’s previous work, A Love of Her Own and At Long Last Love are better examples of Griffin’s talent. These are the books I’d recommend.