Love Everlasting by Anna Larence
(Arabesque, $4.99, G) ISBN: 0-7860-0512-2
**
Heather Chadwick and Gerald Forrester were introduced as secondary characters in Anna Larence's first novel, After Hours.

Heather and that novel's main character, Nachelle Oliver DuCloux, had been best friends since their freshmen year at the University of Texas at Austin. Heather is an heiress who makes her living as a puppeteer. Gerald is a professional basketball player, a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player with the Dallas Mavericks.

At the beginning of After Hours, Gerald and Heather toasted in the New Year. Gerald resolved to finally set a date for their wedding. Heather is "not in a hurry to tie the knot" and resolved to "talk to Gerald." Love Everlasting, Larence's third novel, is Gerald and Heather's story. It opens at the church on their wedding day. Heather has not yet donned her Bob Mackie gown for the nuptials.

To say she has cold feet is an understatement. After a six-year relationship, including a one-year engagement, she is still not ready to get married nor has she talked to Gerald about it. So, before 500 assembled friends, relatives and associates, Heather publicly humiliates Gerald by refusing to marry him because she "needs more time."

All things considered, Gerald takes it rather well. He goes home and throws away all reminders of his life with Heather and he refuses to see or talk to her. Gerald admits he still loves Heather, but is unwilling to let her hurt him again. His close-knit family rallies around to protect and console him. His youngest sister Linda, a WNBA star in her own right, threatens to kick Heather's butt. (The Forrester family characters are well-drawn and believable!)

So what's Heather's problem? One of Gerald's friends sums it up this way:

"There's got to be a damn good reason why a single black woman in her thirties with her biological clock ticking away, would jilt a tall, dark, and handsome millionaire, AIDS-free, single black male. You know y'all ain't so easy to find. Sister must have had some serious problems."

Heather is convinced that her problem is hereditary. Her mother, Marilyn, "marries for money every two years." She is now married to husband number seven (or eight), a U.S. Senator. Apparently, Heather believes that there is a serial marriage gene and that marrying Gerald will condemn them to the divorce court. No one has bothered to point out to Heather that she and Gerald have been together longer than several of her mother's marriages. Nor has Gerald, in his haste to marry Heather, considered that her mother's multiple marriages might have affected her perception of the institution.

Heather has also been spending too much time with her puppets and not enough time with real people. She knows Gerald still loves her and will come back to her once he's had a chance to calm down. Heather is in denial.

Neither finding a woman in Gerald's hotel room nor seeing his picture in the society pages with an attractive Atlanta attorney can sway her thinking. She and Gerald will get back together. When Heather finds that her name has been removed from the Dallas players' list for comp tickets to the game, she begins to realize that she might have a problem getting Gerald back!

While Heather is busy pursuing Gerald, a "secret admirer" is pursing her, sending candy, flowers and expensive gifts. Her "secret admirer" is a social-climbing psychopath who, ironically, plans to kidnap Heather and force her into marriage so that he can spend his days as a wife-beating gigolo.

There are many things to like about Love Everlasting. The characters and their relationships with one another, the author's writing style and the pacing of the action. However, there are two elements that I disliked.

First, the author unnecessarily frays the edges of Steven and Nachelle DuCloux's marriage. After devoting her entire first novel to getting them together, I didn't like seeing them struggle. There was more than enough drama without it.

Second, there is a disturbing amount of violence against women depicted. While I agree that given the nature of Gerald and Heather's breakup only a physical threat or illness would make him come to her, I found the level of violence unacceptable.

For those reasons, I'd advise readers to think twice about Love Everlasting.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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