Do you remember that childhood chant that went, "First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Tess with a baby carriage?" In First Comes Love, Elizabeth Bevarly has turned the progression on its head and put the baby carriage first, with love and marriage lagging well behind…or so the good people of Marigold, Indiana, think. Marigold's rumor mill says that Tess Monahan is pregnant, and everybody knows that Marigold's rumor mill has a reputation for accuracy. The rumor certainly has Will Darrow convinced.
At 36 Will Darrow is a solid citizen, the owner of a garage and proud to be Finn Monahan's best friend. Finn is one of six Monahan siblings…five brothers and the baby, Tess. Of course, Tess isn't a baby anymore. She's 26, has her bachelor's and master's in education from Indiana University, and has been teaching first grade at Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary for four years. Nevertheless, Will tries to keep thinking of her as the Monahan brothers' kid sister so that he won't have to admit that his feelings for her are anything but brotherly.
For her part, Tess' pre-adolescent crush on Will has matured into a far more adult emotion. Somehow or other, her feelings for Will have kept her out of a serious relationship with anyone else. No one ever measured up to Will.
As the school year winds down, Tess is about to be honored at the annual teacher appreciation luncheon with this year's Award for Excellence in Teaching. She is determined to attend even though she feels terrible. She has come down with the mother of all stomach viruses, but she manages to throw on a jumper, drag a comb through her hair, and drive to school.
When her life-long rival and fellow first grade teacher, Susan Gibbs, sees a wan Tess skip lunch in favor of crackers washed down with plain water, she jumps to the conclusion that Tess is pregnant. She brushes off Tess' denials but promises not to say a word to anyone else. Since Susan is one of Marigold's foremost gossips, Tess knows that promise isn't worth diddly.
The one person who knows Tess can't possibly be pregnant is Tess. She hasn't been exposed to pregnancy, as my elderly doctor once phrased it. She is a good Irish Catholic girl and a virgin. All she has to do is wait for time to pass, and the rumor mill will be confounded. In the meantime, the population of Marigold, Indiana, is driving her crazy with their support, their sympathy, and their concern. The only positive aspect of the whole situation is that Will Darrow's concern motivates him to see a lot more of Tess.
I was never quite sure why Will couldn't see himself as Tess' suitor, but his struggles to avoid doing so amused me. I particularly liked Will's interior monologues as he tried desperately not to think carnal thoughts about his friend's little sister. In fact, I smiled a lot while I read First Comes Love, and I laughed out loud several times. The scene where Tess compounds her problems while trying to quash questions about the identity the putative father is especially funny.
All in all, First Comes Love is a light, entertaining read about two believable people. Bevarly has a deft hand with her humor and doesn't overwork it. If I thought the bedroom scenes were a little too steamy for an Irish Catholic virgin and a definitely inhibited garage owner, that factor was not enough to interfere with my overall enjoyment of Will and Tess' story. All in all, First Comes Love proved to be a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.
--Nancy J. Silberstein