Daniel's Gift by Barbara Freethy
(Avon, $5.99, G) ISBN 0-380-78189-
*****
Here's another wonderful book that will warm your heart, make you cry, and remind you just what romance is truly about -- two people, faced with trauma and adversity, who find strength in each other and their relationship.

Barbara Freethy has written a remarkable novel about the everlasting power of first love and the unique bond between a mother and child. Jenny St. Claire is a courageous single mom who must deal with her son Danny's possibly fatal accident. To make the situation worse, Danny's father, prominent surgeon Luke Sheridan, suddenly arrives on the scene, calmly claiming his long-overdue parental rights.

First love always holds a special place in our hearts. Years earlier, young and adventurous Jenny fell deeply in love with the wealthy and reserved Luke, who was drawn to her spontaneity. However, his parents had great plans for his future, which didn't include marriage to Jenny. Realizing the futility of continuing their relationship, Luke breaks it off to continue the path his parents have decreed, not knowing that Jenny has become pregnant. Despite criticism from her family, Jenny decides to keep her son and struggles desperately to provide a stable home environment.

Fast-forward to present day, where Danny's questions and curiosity regarding his father are making Jenny more and more uncomfortable. Luke has returned to the area and continued in his parent's footsteps. Now married to Denise, who is the perfect companion and happily willing to play the role of gracious hostess and devoted helpmate of a famous research scientist, Luke's moments of dissatisfaction with his life are becoming more and more frequent. Having achieved more than most in his lifetime, his interests are now focusing on creating a family and home life.

Danny, acting on impulse, takes a bike ride over to his father's house, but is unsuccessful is contacting him. Unfortunately, on his way back, tragedy strikes and Danny ends up in a coma, fighting for his life. In the midst of this distress, Jenny and Luke are unexpectedly reunited, making them examine their current lives and rediscover their still passionate feelings for one another.

Most critics of the industry think that romances are only gratuitous sex held together with flimsy or soap-operatic plots. But romance connoisseurs know that a truly good book doesn't have to have steamy love scenes to make it a worthwhile read (although they're lots of fun). It takes a gifted writer such as Ms. Freethy who can make us feel what the characters feel; to laugh over their foibles, and cry about their misfortunes, and grin ear-to-ear when it all ends happily ever after.

Barbara has created two very realistic, very identifiable characters in Jenny and Luke. Using a tried and true romance plotline, she adds some clever twists that will keep reader's guessing until the end. She also brings in a variety of imaginative secondary characters that give extra depth to the story. Danny is a great representation of everychild, always questioning the status quo. Jacob, as Danny's guardian angel provides a perfect humorous foil to the tragic circumstances. Denise, as Luke's cool, calculating and always perfect wife, rivals any daytime soap opera character. And, Merrilee, Jenny's judgmental obsessive-compulsive sister, even becomes a regular person in the end.

If this book is any indication of what to expect from Barbara Freethy, I am eagerly looking forward to reading her next book.

--Susan Bontly


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