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Beyond Desire by Gwynne Forster
(Arabesque/BET, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-7860-0607-2
Two years ago, Marcus Hickson was on top of the world. He was head of a thriving Virginia business that rebuilds fine grand pianos and spinets, antique harpsichords and rare small stringed instruments. Marcus' life changed one weekend when he took his young daughter, Amy, to watch a sailing competition in North Carolina. A building crane fell on their rental car and crushed Amy. She required extensive medical attention to repair internal injuries.

Marcus has a cash flow problem. Amy has been hospitalized for fourteen months. To pay for medical expenses not covered by insurance, Marcus has sold his car, his Steinway and his Stradivarius; maxed out his credit cards; and mortgaged his home and business. He still needs $70,000 of the $100,000 necessary for an operation that will enable Amy to walk again. Surgeons require payment in advance; no one will lend Marcus the money. The construction company is delaying settlement of his lawsuit. A major project that would bring in needed funds is bogged down for want of a custom-made part. Twelve years of work are in jeopardy.

Amanda Ross' problem tends to pale in comparison because she has options. Amanda has just been promoted to principal of the Caution Point, North Carolina, junior high school. She is financially secure, having inherited from her parents, grandparents, great-aunt and the family's fish and seafood canning business.

Amanda was seduced by a wealthy cad who bet his friends he could bed the 39-year-old virgin. Her first sexual experience left her disillusioned, in need of emergency medical treatment and pregnant. Caution Point is a conservative town of 14,000. Amanda is faced with resigning her position and leaving town in disgrace. A mutual friend suggests that Amanda and Marcus who have never met could help each other out.

Gwynne Forster painstakingly tells the story of two strangers forced together by circumstances.

Marcus' story is one of pride balanced against the need to provide for and protect his daughter. He balks at being a bartered spouse and is embarrassed for his friends and brother to know his life has disintegrated to this point. For her part, Amanda is a loving, giving woman with the compassion to take in stray kittens, mend injured birds and volunteer at the local hospital. Her pride is also on the line and she desperately seeks compassion for herself.

Forster's dialogue helps makes this book entertaining. Marcus and Amanda cut the tension and bridge the early days of their relationship with lighthearted bantering. They spar with quotations ranging from Shakespeare to Amanda's great-aunt Meredith.

There is a very interesting secondary "romance" between a four- and five-year old that the adults could learn a lot from. Most of the other characters are relegated to the sidelines. One exception is Marcus' brother Luke, an intriguing and available man. I hope we'll get his story soon.

When Gwynne Forster is on top of her game, no one does it better. Beyond Desire is a case in point. Forster's sixth novel takes a very simple premise and delivers a very complex, honest and intelligent marriage-of-convenience story. Beyond Desire is Forster's best work in quite some time. I strongly recommend it.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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