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One True Love by Barbara Freethy
(Avon, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-380-79480-2
****
There may be One True Love, but this novel actually follows the paths of three romances. Barbara Freethy integrates the different plotlines more smoothly and successfully than in her previous novel, Ask Mariah. For pure emotional resonance, this author is hard to beat.

The primary love story involves the reunion of Nick Maddux and Lisa Alvarez, who were married briefly eight years ago. Although they were young and deeply in love, the tragic death of their infant daughter destroyed their marriage. Lisa fled their San Diego home and became an advertising executive in Los Angeles, where she became engaged to her much-older boss. She never mentions her past, and her fiancé doesn't even know she was previously someone's wife and mother. Nick stayed in their old house and worked through his grief by starting his own business that featured his beautiful handcrafted baby furniture.

Nick and Lisa come face-to-face again when Maggie, Lisa's best friend, calls and begs her to come to San Diego and baby-sit for a few days. Maggie's husband died a year ago, and she is totally worn out from being a single parent to three kids. Plus she has received a letter that makes her wonder if her husband is really dead, or if he has disappeared with another woman. As she takes off on an adventure to find the truth, she meets Jeremy, a handsome screenwriter who miraculously sees her as something more than a harried mom.

Meanwhile Raymond, Lisa's fiancé, finds himself unexpectedly attracted to his main business rival, a woman his own age who challenges him as the young and quiet Lisa never does. He is sure he wants to marry Lisa to gain a beautiful trophy wife, but he has so much fun matching wits with Beverly.

The main focus of One True Love is how Nick and Lisa finally come to terms with their baby's death and rediscover their relationship. Freethy flawlessly and poignantly captures the myriad of emotions faced by parents who have experienced a SIDS death – anger, guilt, grief – and provides a set of compelling dynamics to explain how Nick and Lisa blamed themselves and each other, and then fell apart so quickly. She is just as adept at convincing the reader that their reunion is permanent, as both have grown and changed in the past eight years.

The romance that quickly develops between Maggie and Jeremy fell a little flat for me. While I could understand and recognize the desire for a tired mom to have a little adventure, Jeremy's character seemed too good to be true. The exciting foreplay between Raymond and Beverly was a lot more fun, and provided some welcome comic relief to the drama of the primary romance.

As usual, Freethy adds a touch of magic to her novel, in the form of a charmed charm bracelet and an unusual bird that symbolizes Nick and Lisa's lost baby, Robin. These supernatural features add a little something extra without detracting from the well-developed interpersonal dynamics that make the story so rewarding.

I read the novel's 358 pages in less than 24 hours, including a race to the finish line as I hid in my bedroom, hoping to get to the last page before my two young children got tired of Saturday morning cartoons. That gives you an idea of how compelling this author can be when she's on target. One True Love isn't always easy to read – the flashback passages describing the devastating infant death are heartbreaking – but it's one truly rewarding experience.

--Susan Scribner


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