Once and Again by Deirdre Savoy
(Arabesque/BET, $5.99, PG) ISBN 1-58314-169-38
This Once and Again has absolutely nothing to do with the television series or actress Sela Ward. Instead, Deirdre Savoy’s third novel is the story of singer-songwriter Nathan Ward. Nathan was a scene-stealing secondary character in Savoy’s Always whose story demanded to be told. And, although Once and Again is a stand alone romance, I strongly recommend reading Always first.

When Once and Again begins, it is Friday, October 13. It is also Nathan’s wedding day and he is a reluctant bridegroom. As he stands at the altar in a “black suit, which in his mind befitted the occasion,” Nathan recalls an earlier time in the parish when he and his teenage friends got drunk on sacramental wine and set off a chain of events which resulted in the church burning to the ground. He hopes he can get through the ceremony in the new church without being struck by lightening.

His thoughts shift back to the present and his grandmother in the pew feverishly praying on her rosary beads for divine intervention. It comes in the form of those three little words from his intended Nathan longed to hear: I’m not coming.” Nathan Ward had been left at the altar. His grandmother’s prayers have been answered and Nathan’s bachelorhood is still intact.

Although the bride was a no-show, Daphne Thorne had come to Nathan’s wedding. Daphne is the older sister of Always’ hero Michael Thorne. “He’d invited all of Michael’s family to the wedding. She was the last one he would have expected to show up. Maybe it was simple morbid curiosity - the same reason people gather around a burning building. They might be horrified, repulsed, but at the same time, they can’t look away…”

In Always, Daphne’s niece offered that her aunt didn’t like men. In Once and Again we learn why. Daphne and Nathan grew up together. He was a few years older and smitten with her. She found every opportunity to torment him. He held fast and eventually won her over.

Fifteen years ago - when both were in their early twenties, Nathan and Daphne were lovers. Nathan left her to go on tour with his band as the opening act for a famous singer. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and he left to pursue his dream of a music career. Daphne took it personally. When Nathan returned from the tour, Daphne refused to see him. Her father and brother turned him away at the door. Their relationship ended on a sour note.

Despite his work with her brother, Daphne and Nathan have neither spoken nor seen each other in fifteen years. Her presence at his wedding came as a result of a blanket invitation to the Thorne family. Now that Nathan has seen Daphne again, he is determined to have her back in his life. I have purposely chosen to give an overview of Nathan and Daphne’s relationship rather than divulge any plot secrets that will mar enjoyment of either Always or Once and Again.

Once and Again is a follow-up to Always. Deirdre Savoy skillfully explores her characters’ fears, motivation and development. Nathan is the stronger of the two characters and has evolved credibly since his role in the first novel. Changes in his life between the first and second stories have yielded a more mature, more mellow Nathan. However, neither Nathan nor the author have lost their edges or senses of humor. Daphne is more sullen and bitter. In her attempts to punish the long absent Nathan, she has born the brunt of her own retribution.

Deirdre Savoy has taken what could have been a very predictable plot line and infused it with a few interesting surprises. There is a subplot dealing with Daphne’s business that provides the couple with a mechanism to bring them together. However, I found some of those scenes distracting and the resolution of that conflict somewhat murky.

Nathan and Daphne’s families play important roles in Once and Again. As secondary characters, they give much needed support and understanding. Nathan’s grandmother is particularly well drawn. It is good to see what has happened with Jenny and Michael Thorne in the interim.

Once and Again is only the author’s third romance. However, Deirdre Savoy has created an impressive body of work in a short period of time. She is a good student of the genre who continues to improve her craft. I enjoyed Once and Again, recommend it and look forward to her next book.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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