Janice Sims' novella, "The Keys to My Heart," was published in Arabesque/BET Books 2000 Mother's Day anthology, A Very Special Love. It is an excellent story that I selected as my pick for Romance in Color's "Novella of the Year." The publisher reissued the anthology last year in lieu of releasing a new collection of Mother's Day romances. I strongly recommend it.
"The Keys to My Heart" takes place in Damascus, Florida, a town the author says is very much like the town in which she grew up. The story introduces the close-knit Everett family after a particularly tragic event in their lives. Among the Everett siblings is Kerry, the town's no-nonsense police chief.
This Time Forever is Kerry's story.
There has been a murder in Damascus. The population of 5,643 has been reduced by one. Not everyone in town is grief-stricken. The late Johnny Haywood was a drug dealer and wife beater. His brothers Ike, Jr. and Billy are in the state prison. Ike Haywood, Sr. was killed in prison. The circumstances surrounding Johnny's death are drawing interest from both local and federal authorities for different reasons. Johnny was killed on Kerry's turf, but the FBI is investigating the murder because of similarities between Haywood's death and the work of a serial killer. Special Agent Maceo Kent is dispatched Damascus to work undercover and enlist the help of the local authorities.
While it is Maceo's first trip to Damascus, it isn't the first time he's been undercover with Chief Kerry Everett. The two have a history. Mac was one of Kerry's instructors during her stint in the Marine Corps. After her discharge, the two became lovers. They separated ten years ago when Mac went into the FBI academy in Virginia and Kerry refused to go with him. She opted to return to Florida to work on her undergraduate degree and join the police academy in Miami. The strong, explosive chemistry between them still exists, but first there is a murder to solve...and family to meet.
The first part is the easiest. In short order, the murder is solved and a suspect has been arrested. Is it the real killer? Mac finds that life in a small town is difficult for an undercover stranger. The gregarious Everett clan is another issue altogether. Then there are the all-seeing, all-knowing citizens of Damascus. Mac proves he is up to the personal and professional challenges.
In This Time Forever Janice Sims has created an interesting mystery that takes a secondary role to the romance between Mac and Kerry. Because of their shared history and law enforcement backgrounds, they aren't as intense as the relationship between Kiana and Gabriel Merrick, one of my favorite contemporary couples. In addition, the author seemed intent on softening the edges of the former Marine turned police chief by showing another side of Kerry's life. Another distraction was the unabridged version of "The Girl Who Loved Butterflies," Courtney Merrick's favorite bedtime story.
There are family secrets, surprise plot twists and an amusing tale of the lives and loves of the Everett women as told by an erstwhile suitor. And, although it is good to see them again, the author has wisely kept the Everetts to the sidelines. The family - especially Gabriel, Kiana and Courtney Merrick and matriarch Evelyn Everett, steal every scene they are in.
On another note, I am very curious about the young lady Courtney will become. She has experienced the death of both parents early on but is growing up surrounded by a large, loving family. However, I'm not quite sure I want Courtney's story at a later date. But any opportunity to see her Uncle Gabriel is all right with me.
Gabriel Merrick, the love story between Kerry Everett and Mac Kent, and a very interesting plot twist make me recommend This Time Forever.