Always by Deirdre Savoy
(Arabesque/BET, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-58314-168-5
Michael Thorne was consumed by grief and guilt following his mother’s death in a senseless traffic accident. His father, coping with his own sense of loss, was unable to deal with his rebellious teenager. The elder Thorne sent his only son to his best friend, Rusty Scanlon, for safekeeping and guidance.

While Rusty was a scoundrel in his own right, he gave Michael at steady hand during his high school and college years. Rusty’s rules to his sixteen-year-old charge were simple: No drugs. No alcohol. And “stay away from my daughter.”

At twelve, Jennifer Rose Scanlon had experienced her own tragedy. Her mother was killed in a boating accident. At first, Michael was an interloper. Later, as an easy peace settled between the two and they became surrogate siblings. However, in her later teens, Jenny developed a huge crush on her “big brother.” Shortly before he graduates from college, Michael begins to notice that his young “Squirt” is growing up. A big misunderstanding occurs on her sixteenth birthday and the two part in amidst a great deal of confusion.

As Always begins, Michael and Jenny are reunited ten years later at Rusty’s hospital bedside. What was initially thought to be a heart attack was later revealed to be a broken collarbone from a session of vigorous lovemaking.

Rusty is still a scoundrel. Jenny is now a professional dancer and has blossomed into a graceful young woman. So much so that Michael initially does not recognize her. When he does, all his memories come flooding back. Jenny’s father is about to reveal an explosive family secret and Michael has been summoned to once again protect her.

The years have passed and the once insurmountable eight-year difference in their ages has narrowed. Michael is now 32; Jenny is 26 and they are attracted to each other. Michael is hesitant, but Jenny is determined to explore the possibilities of a relationship with him.

Always is a worthy successor to Deirdre Savoy’s debut novel, Spellbound. It is a wonderful second-chance romance about love, family secrets, betrayal and loyalty. The novel also is a good showcase for the author’s incomparable sense of humor. In the opening to her romance about a dancer, Savoy thanks her first dance teacher “who could never remember my name and said my plié looked liked two bent banana peels, but who sparked in me a love of dance - as long as somebody else was doing it.”

The relationship between the Michael and Jenny is credible. The scenes between them progress logically from curiosity to exploration to resolution. Savoy has created a wonderful cast of secondary characters - particularly in Michael’s older sisters and his best friend - I would like to know more about. (The author’s note promises readers will get to revisit the Thornes next spring.)The narrative moves along at a reasonable pace, but is often slowed down unexpectedly by flashbacks. A simple change in the typeface and spacing could have rectified that concern.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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