The Price of Passion

 
Dangerous Dilemmas by Evelyn Palfrey
(Pocket, $12.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-0-671-04222-X
****
Dangerous Dilemmas is the third in Evelyn Palfrey's trilogy of romantic suspense novels for and about "the marvelously mature." The individual stories highlight incidents in the lives and loves of three former University of Texas roommates. The women are connected; the novels are not.

Sondra's story was told in the first book, Three Perfect Men and Vivian's was told in The Price of Passion, which TRR has reviewed. Dangerous Dilemmas is the tale of Dallas housewife Audrey Williams Roberts.

When Dangerous Dilemmas begins, Audrey is traveling down a particularly bumpy stretch of life's highway. Her relationship with her grown daughter can best be described as ambivalent. There is love, but little understanding and communication between the two. Audrey is facing menopause and probability of hysterectomy. Her only son has been arrested in Houston for the murder of a storeowner. In addition, she has recently discovered her husband of more than 25 years has been having a long-term affair with his business partner.

As if to underscore her woes, Audrey gets a flat tire after visiting her son in a Houston jail. She is sobbing on the road when a knight on a white horse - actually a knight in a white Lincoln with a "deep Barry White kind of voice" - comes to her rescue. Detective Kirk Maxwell (a minor character in Three Perfect Men) stops and assures her that he would "fix it" for her. Kirk is unaware that she has several things that need fixing. There’s not just one "it" to be fixed, but many. In the scheme of things, the tire is a minor inconvenience, but the multiple its in Audrey's life are looming large and closing in on her.

Audrey and the recently widowed Kirk are attracted to each other. The soon-to-be divorced Audrey has begun using her maiden name so the woman Kirk is becoming involved with is known to him as "Audrey Williams." It is only later that they discover the fates have dealt their relationship a serious blow. During the bond hearing for her son, she discovers that Kirk was the arresting officer in her son's case. The term "conflict-of-interest" takes on personal and professional overtones. But after a period of soul searching, they both acknowledge their growing attraction and decide to see where it takes them. Conversations about her son's case are off-limits as part of their agreement.

Dangerous Dilemmas has all the best elements of an Evelyn Palfrey romance: a relationship between a mature couple, glimpses of the Texas landscape, a motor home, a big full moon, lots of Texas-speak and a murder mystery. There is also a satisfying May-December secondary romance and a bit of subtle commentary on the relationship between mothers and sons. The author has inserted a mini-primer on the proper way to woo a woman who is "way too old to have bad sex." Suggested reading for would-be suitors includes romance novels: "Maybe if more men read them - sort of like a training manual - they'd be better lovers. Then maybe women would do less reading..."

The main characters are well-drawn and mature. Kirk, a walk-on character in Three Perfect Men, is fleshed out. We learn of his personal aspirations, his wife's death, his relationship with his son and his role as a surrogate father to a young waif. For her part, Audrey doesn't wallow in her children's issues nor does she plot revenge in the face of her husband's betrayal. She does what she has to do to ensure her future. A change of scene, a new job and opening herself up to the possibilities of a relationship with Maxwell are just the beginning.

There is more music in this novel as the main characters take a break and attend the annual Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. The road trip provides the overt Afrocentric touches African-American romance readers can relate to and enjoy. On the downside, menopause as a subplot was a bit murky. It was interesting, but not well developed.

Although each novel is a freestanding story, my enjoyment of Dangerous Dilemmas was enhanced after I read Three Perfect Men. The author self-published all three novels, but Simon & Schuster chose only to reprint The Price of Passion and Dangerous Dilemmas. As a result, Three Perfect Men is out of print and hard to find. I recommend it and Dangerous Dilemmas.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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