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With this Kiss

The Essence of Love
by Candice Poarch
(BET Books/Arabesque, $4.99, PG) ISBN: 0-7860-0567-X
Candice Poarch is one of the most promising writers on my Emerging Authors list. Her first two novels, White Lightning and With This Kiss, were engaging romances with quirky characters that put the mythical town of Nottoway, Virginia, on the map for me. "A New Year, A New Beginning" a short story in Arabesque's 1997 year-end anthology, Moonlight and Mistletoe,, was a captivating tale of older lovers who find each other in time to celebrate the New Year. I strongly recommend each of these stories.

Essence of Love, Poarch's third novel is set in Washington, DC. It is the story of aromatherapist Cleopatra Sharp and postal inspector Taylor Bradford. Cleo has begun to suspect that someone is using her business name to defraud the sick and their loved ones seeking miracle cures. The postal service has begun to suspect Cleo. Taylor Bradford is dispatched to go undercover and dig up evidence on her. He lands work as a carpenter, helping her expand her store in a DC shopping mall.

Cleo is very attracted to Taylor and drops hints even a blind man can see. Taylor is attracted to Cleo. But he is a government man on a mission. He will not be sidetracked until he gets his woman. Yeah, right! Meanwhile, Taylor is acting so suspiciously that Cleo begins to suspect that he just might be the culprit who is putting her business in jeopardy. They spend a lot of time suspiciously watching each other.

The Essence of Love is an extremely busy novel. There are a lot of peripheral characters and a few interesting secondary romances. We learn a great deal about Cleo and her background and about aromatherapy and postal inspection. What we don't learn a great deal about is the hero. I could never get a fix on who Taylor was, and as a result, I couldn't get fully vested into the Cleo-Taylor relationship. While the main relationship left me with more than a few questions, the novel's basic theme of trust is very well developed and reinforced. "Trust is the essence of love," says one of her characters.

Candice Poarch still has a spot on my Emerging Authors list. I'm looking forward to more Good things from her both in and out of Nottoway.

Candice Poarch is a good writer. Although I like her Nottoway stories, her work in "A New Year, A New Beginning" proves she doesn't need the town as a literary crutch to write well. I'm convinced she can write good stories outside that venue but The Essence of Love just wasn't that vehicle.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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