By Janice Sims:

A Bittersweet Love

For Keeps

Love Letters

Out of the Blue

By Courtni Wright:

It Had to be You

Seasons Greetings

A Sure Thing

By Kayla Perrin:

Again, My Love

Everlasting Love

Midnight Dreams

Sweet Honesty

Wine and Roses

A Very Special Love
by Janice Sims, Courtni Wright & Kayla Perrin
(Arabesque/BET, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-58314-106-5
Arabesque/BET Books’ 2000 Mother's Day anthology begins with “The Keys To My Heart,” a very strong story by Janice Sims. Nurse Kiana Everett works two jobs and is juggling her new role as a single mother. Kiana recently has assumed responsibility for her niece Courtney after her parents were tragically killed in an automobile accident caused by a drunk driver. Courtney miraculously survived the crash that took her parents’ lives. Kiana has a large, lively extended family close by to help her.

As the story begins, Kiana receives an early morning call from Gabriel Merrick, her brother-in-law’s older brother. Gabriel was away in Africa when his brother was killed and is just learning of the tragedy, nearly a month later. After a brief conversation about the accident and sharing condolences, Kiana is shocked to learn that Gabriel has a legal document giving him custody of Courtney. She is not about to give up without a fight. Cooler heads prevail and Gabriel decides to come from Connecticut to Damascus, Florida, to discuss the situation. But a funny thing happens on the road to Damascus...

“The Keys To My Heart” is my favorite story in the collection. It is warm and often funny and full of wonderful secondary characters one finds in small towns throughout the country. There are also the makings for a secondary romance I hope the author later develops. The main characters are human and humane. And, although they both have had bad relationships, they never inflict fallout from those relationships on each other.

I've got another reason to like “The Keys To My Heart.” It is refreshing to read about a custody battle over a young child by relatives in Florida that has a happy ending!

Courtni Wright’s story, “A Mother's Love” is a more mainstream offering. For the first time in nearly 20 years, Jackie Peterson's family is unable to spend Mother's Day with her. Her husband is out of town on a business trip and her son is away at college. Although they have called, sent greetings and gifts, Jackie is still a bit bummed by it all. Not even girl’s day out with her sister can cheer her up because Jackie would rather whine, brood and reminisce. The story meanders until it reaches a somewhat predictable conclusion.

“Maternal Instincts” by Kayla Perrin rounds out the collection. It is a strong second-chance story about two high school friends who become reacquainted after a number of years. Lexy Sinclair is a widow with a ten-year-old daughter. It has been several years since her husband’s death and her friends have been encouraging her to reestablish her social life. Actually, they want her to get a life.

As the story begins, Lexy is enjoying an evening out with her friends when she is called home for a family emergency. Panic, guilt and a host of other emotions set in. One of her friends calls her ex-husband, Marcel Kennedy, a police officer. Marcel is happy to help. He is happier to see Lexy again. Marcel and Lexy were part of a group of friends who attended high school together. Marcel was always attracted to Lexy, but she became pregnant and got married before he was able to tell her. For her part, Lexy had a crush on him. Years later, he was briefly married to one of her best friends. They are now free to begin a relationship. Or are they?

Kayla Perrin has created a grown up story without the hidden drama that could have slowed down the action. There is no jealousy between the two women friends that could have deterred from the plot. There was, however, an implausible reaction to a situation involving her daughter early in the story that didn’t ring true for the overprotective mother Lexy’s character was.

Marcel was a patient, hero who taught Lexy how to live, laugh and love again. There was excellent chemistry between the main characters and among the secondary characters. A perceptive little girl rounds out the mix.

My rating for this anthology is numerical. After a strong hand off from Janice Sims; strong four-heart romance, the baton is bobbled momentarily by Wright's 3-heart read, but Kayla Perrin's solid 4-heart story picks up the collection and sprints to a credible finish.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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