The Heart of the Falcon by Francis Ray
(Arabesque, $4.99, PG) ISBN: 0-7860-0483-5
****
The Heart of the Falcon is the long-awaited third installment of the Taggart family saga. The Taggarts of Texas first appeared in 1994 with Forever Yours, the story of Kane and Victoria Chandler Taggart's marriage of convenience. (The book successfully launched the Arabesque line and the movie rights have been optioned.) Two years later, Only Hers, the rocky romance of Matt and Shannon Johnson Taggart, was published. In both books, Madelyn "Addie" Taggart, the family's youngest child and only daughter, made brief appearances. Daniel Falcon was introduced as a charismatic, no nonsense businessman who, in tribute to his African-American and Native American heritage, created documentary films as an avocation.

Madelyn Taggart, as she now prefers to be called, has graduated from college with a degree in chemical engineering. For three years she has lived in Houston, where she works as a production engineer for Sinclair Petroleum Company. She's made it in a mostly older, all-male, all-white industry. Yet, for all her professional aplomb, Madelyn is a lightweight in love. She saw a picture of family friend and millionaire businessman, Daniel Falcon with her brother. Madelyn was immediately smitten. The descriptions of Daniel in this book are somewhat sketchy and the readers will be hard-pressed to know what the big deal is until or unless they've read Only Hers.

Madelyn and Daniel meet for the first time on business in San Antonio. Madelyn was so busy having a Daniel daydream, she literally didn't have sense to come in out of the rain. She crashes headlong into him in a storm-soggy gauze dress. Daniel gallantly offers her the use of his jacket and hotel room so she can regroup. She reluctantly accepts. He is pleased to discover that she dries off very well. He is not thrilled to find out she is Matt and Kane Taggart's little sister. Apparently, there are rules about that sort of thing. Not to mention the fact that her big brothers are big! In the spirit of his friendship with her family, Daniel shows Madelyn around San Antonio.

They spend a pleasant day together. She knows what she wants, but Daniel fights their mutual attraction. He lets her know that he's not into long-term relationships particularly not with her because of his close relationship with her brothers. In Houston, weeks later, the best laid plans of mice, men and Daniel Falcon go awry when he and Madelyn go to bed together. It was a spontaneous encounter. He immediately sees this as a mistake; she is devastated by his reaction.

Daniel takes commitment-phobia to new heights. He's never been in love. Using his parents' off-again, on-again relationship as an example, he vows never to put his heart in jeopardy. In so doing, he destroys most of Madelyn's romanticized illusions about him. The secondary romance of Felicia, his urbane African-American mother, and John Henry, his rustic Native American father, gives the reader glimpses into the essence of Daniel Falcon and his complexities. Felicia and John Henry's story is one of compounded misunderstandings over a long period of time. Ironically, their story is more compelling and opens up a number of questions about in which relationship the true heart of the Falcon can be found.

The underlying themes of Daniel's relationship with Madelyn are redemption and trust. She must come to grips with the impact of his parents' marriage on Daniel's perceptions of love and marriage before she can understand him fully.

The style is classic Francis Ray. The characters from Ray's two previous books make all too brief appearances in the novel for fans who want to catch up on the news. Devoted Francis Ray fans waited two years for this book and will enjoy The Heart of the Falcon despite its minor flaws including an unnecessary closing sentence.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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