To Love, Honor and Defend
by Beth Cornelison
(Silh. Int. Mom. #1362, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-27432-7
***
Assistant District Attorney Libby Hopkins and firefighter Cal Walters were once an item - until Calís previous girl friend Renee told him she was five months pregnant. Seeking to give his unborn child a father, he unceremoniously dumped Libby and married Renee. Three years after that, Cal was involved in a bar fight and the district attorney sought to make an example in the use of excessive force. Cal was offered a plea bargain, two years time and the opportunity to expunge his record if he had no subsequent offenses for five years.

The story begins as Cal is released from prison and finds his daughter Ally in a sordid, roach infested world where her mother is constantly strung out on drugs. He files a petition for custody but realizes his position is weak unless he buttresses it by being married to an officer of the court - that is, Libby.

To sustain herself through Calís rejection, Libby has really thrown herself into her work. And as a possible result, she is being stalked and threatened. The day Cal comes to see her is the day the stalker chooses to escalate letter writing to physical threats. Cal intervenes, protects Libby from the unseen threat and then offers her a deal: marry him to help his daughter Ally have a safe environment and after a couple years she can have a divorce.

Now what self-respecting woman would jump at this deal? However, Cal manages to unknowingly push the buttons of Libbyís childhood and she finally consents. Libby agrees knowing her bigger threat is not the stalker but the fact that she had never gotten over Cal and that she is setting herself up for another fall. This section is the weakest part of the plot.

The story goes forward on two levels - the relationship between Cal and Libby and between the stalker and Libby. It is fairly formulaic, but the characters are well drawn, although too much time is spent on the angst of their respective childhoods. But since that seems to affect so much of what they are, it is critical to the story.

Cornelison has a true gift for sustaining tension of all kinds, and she is able to bring them all together nicely for a resolution.

Since the whole focus is on Cal and Libby, there is not much sense of setting. The characters are warm and likeable and the dialog is pertinent and often poignant. New author Cornelison has debuted with some great strength in writing peppered with just a few plot weaknesses.

--Thea Davis


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