Marcia King-Gamble’s A Reason to Love is a spin-off of her debut novel, Remembrance. It is the story of Onika “Niki” Hamilton who attended Mount Merrimack College with Kimberly Morgan, Lisa Williams and Charlie Canfield.
Niki is a San Francisco pediatrician who is trying to regroup after the tragic death of one of her patients. The doctor found herself at odds with the health care delivery system when her patient=s HMO refused to allow necessary treatment. Regret, second-guessing and threats from an unknown source continue to hound Niki until she decides to take a break from it all.
It is serial wife and former Playboy bunny Kimberly Morgan Smith Goldberg Daniels Rosellini Morgan to the rescue. Kim owns and operates Coffee Mates, an upscale African-American dating service in New Jersey. Onika decides her “flamboyant girlfriend would be a refreshing change from the sterile hospital personalities whose conversations centered around prognoses and diagnoses.” Niki boards a plane for New Jersey hoping to leave her worries in California.
During a night on the town, Kim and Niki run into Aaron Smith and his friend, Cary Thomas.
As they pair off, Cary tries to make conversation with Niki and is rebuffed at every turn. Not only is she rude to him, she is snobbish. That point is emphasized when Cary, a landscape designer who owns his own business, comes to Kim’s to work on a project. Filling in when his workers are down with the flu, Niki assumes Cary is just “a common laborer.” She decides because of a past failed blue-collar/white collar relationship that she and Cary can have nothing in common. If the subplot sounds familiar, it is because it is reminiscent of the occupational misunderstanding in the author’s novella, “Then Came You” in the Island Magic anthology.
Kim is called out of town on a family emergency. Niki agrees to fill in for her and runs the dating service. Cary is attracted to Niki and decides to apply for Coffee Mates’ matchmaking services to get closer to her. Despite her attempts to keep Cary at arms’ length, she is drawn to him. He is a hard worker and a loving father to his young son, Brett.
Cary and Niki seemed mismatched almost from the start. Big and little misunderstandings began to wear thin. As a result, I was never fully vested in the Cary-Niki relationship. I never quite believed she was worthy of him. Niki is a very good doctor, but a very poor judge of men. She constantly jumps to all the wrong conclusions. Secondary characters were much more interesting and I would like to see Kim get a story of her own.
The strength of A Reason to Love is in the suspense. Niki is being pushed from all sides - by the hospital administration and by the person who is threatening her. It is a good romantic suspense with interesting plot twists. The author answers a few questions left at the end of Remembrance and it is good to see Devin and Charlie Spencer again. The novel also takes a critical look at the impact of HMOs on the doctor-patient relationship and on health care services.