Bound by Love by Beverly Clark
(Genesis/Indigo, $8.95, PG-13) ISBN: 1-58571-016-4
***
Philadelphia, the "City of Brotherly Love," wasn't too kind to one sister. More than six years ago, Lesley Wells left her job, family, fiancÚ and reputation behind after being accused of industrial espionage.

Lesley is the daughter of Curtis and Merideth of the Wells of Fashion design house. After working for a while as a junior designer, she went to work for Taylor Made Creations, the firm owned by the family of her then-fiancÚ, Darren Taylor. When Taylor's entire seasonal line showed up as part of the Wells' collection, all fingers pointed at Lesley. There is a rush to judgment. Even Darren and her own family believe she is guilty.

Lesley makes her way to Los Angeles, where she changes her last name to Evans. Hiding in plain sight, she finds work designing evening gowns for Raiments. Bound by Love begins six years later.

Darren Taylor has come to Los Angeles to finalize the purchase of Raiments. His best friend and private investigator has told him he suspects Lesley Evans and Lesley Wells are one and the same. In the years since her disappearance both her parents and Darren have searched for her. But now, Darren has found a way to exact his revenge and improve the company's bottom line. He not only owns the company for which she works, but he has thwarted Lesley's attempts to find work elsewhere in the fashion industry.

She has no choice but to return to Philadelphia and work for the newly created Raiments' offices in that city. Not everyone there is pleased to see Lesley, and particularly working with Darren.

Revenge is sweet. Or is it? Darren is having a hard time reconciling his feelings for Lesley and the feeling that she is guilty and hiding something from him. While that may be the case, Darren is shocked when he learns the truth. Lesley has never stopped loving Darren and the agony of seeing him again and having to work with him is overpowering.

When they can no longer fight their mutual attraction, a physical relationship between the two begins. However, both are wary. The relationship, which works very well on the horizontal, is vertically challenged because they don't trust each other.

If Lesley and Darren are to peacefully coexist in Philadelphia, they are determined to discover the truth about the theft of the Taylor designs six years ago. Unknown to each other, they begin their own separate investigations to determine the truth. I liked the way Darren and Lesley suspected everyone and mentally questioned what each would have to gain by setting Lesley up. And, while the facts are disclosed, too many loose ends in the plot minimized the eventual payoff for me.

The first third of Bound by Love begins slowly, with recriminations, flashbacks and a sense of deja vu. It was then I recognized the similarities between Bound by Love and another Clark romance, A Love to Cherish. It was the search for the corporate thief that held my interest.

Despite the similarities to her earlier work, a sharper editor's pen and eye could have made Bound by Love a five-heart contender. There are too many unanswered questions throughout the book. For example, Darren's connections within the California fashion community that allowed him to prevent Lesley from finding another job, should have yielded her whereabouts. Likewise, her parents should have been able to find her more easily. Wouldn't the industry be the first place Darren and the Wellses would look? Once Lesley built a reputation for her designs, someone should have recognized her or her work.

Beverly Clark has filled the novel with wonderful secondary characters. Despite the fact that few have the words, "I=m sorry" in their vocabularies, I did like most of them. The author has created at least three spin-off possibilities I hope she will explore. Many of the unanswered questions could be resolved.

That said, Bound by Love is a likeable story about likeable people that I liked, a little.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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