Be Mine

Firm Commitments

No Greater Gift
by Geri Guillaume
(Arabesque/BET, $4.99, G) ISBN 1-58314-040-9
Kira Dodd is on a mission.

Her mother, Myra, recently retired after 35 years as a teacher and school administrator. Sensing her restlessness, her daughters sent her on a cruise. That's where the trouble began. "Her mother, the rock of stability, the essence of familial obligation, the last bastion of responsibility, had met a man!"

Myra Dodd sent a postcard informing her family that she would not be returning to Chicago. She had taken up residence at the Triple J ranch in Murray, Texas. Kira was dispatched by her grandmother, aunt and pregnant sister Alicia to rescue Myra from the clutches of Jimmy Jolivet, the love boat Lothario.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Myra has captured the hearts of most of Murray, Texas. Everyone, that is, but Dylan Jolivet, Jimmy's nephew and foreman at the Triple J. Dylan sees Myra as a gold digger who is influencing his uncle to make unwelcome changes to the Jolivet lifestyle.

Several generations of Jolivets have lived and worked on what is now the Triple J ranch. Murray, Texas is a small town where escorting a woman to church is as much a sign of a man's intent as introducing her to his mother. There is a town Christmas pageant and celebration in which everyone participates.

When Kira arrives in Murray, she discovers the disparity between her fears and assumptions and real life. But she's got two weeks to convince her mother to return home in time for the Christmas holiday.

In the middle of town Kira encounters "hometown homeboy," Dylan Jolivet. They have the same agenda -- to end the relationship between Myra and Jimmy and send Myra back to Chicago. However, they can't agree on anything, especially how to fight their growing attraction. Cupid gets a nudge. The elders hope that by acknowledging their feelings for each other, Kira and Dylan will be more accepting of Jimmy and Myra's relationship.

A little more than six months ago I reviewed Geri Guillaume's Be Mine, another romance set in small-town America. Geri Guillaume seems to have created a niche or at least found her rhythm writing pleasant, homespun romances. The author, who raises horses, has woven that knowledge into the fabric of this novel. Like Be Mine, No Greater Gift is a understated story full of "Yes, Ma'ams," family values, loyalty and love.

After a disjointed first chapter, No Greater Gift emerges as a worthy successor to Be Mine and goes on to establish its own identity. The secondary characters, especially the Triple Js -- Jimmy, Jesse and Baby John Jolivet -- are excellent. The town of Murray serves as a wholesome backdrop that can be revisited, if the author chooses, for future romances.

And, while the Myra-Jimmy relationship serves as a catalyst for bringing Dylan and Kira together, it never gets in the way of the primary romance. Jolivet males from the eldest brother to the family dog cannot resist the lure of Dodd females! The romance between Dylan and Kira develops realistically from their first adversarial meetings to a curious wariness to the individual acknowledgment of love. The author's use of humor smoothes many of the transitions within the story.

No Greater Gift is a welcome present for the holiday season I heartily recommend. Besides, how else will you find out what a shoodle is?

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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