Bouquet by Roberta Gayle,
Anna Larence and Gail McFarland
(Arabesque, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN: 0-7860-0515-7
Bouquet, Arabesque's 1998 Mother's Day anthology, is a collection of stories about the efforts of matchmaking mothers.

"The Gamble" by Roberta Gayle is the story of college friends Samantha Savage and Jake Tremaine. Samantha and Jake are best friends, but polar opposites. She is a stiff, responsible businesswoman who has adopted four children. He is a loose, professional gadfly who has run from marriage and family life.

Jake works in Las Vegas where Samantha and her flighty college professor mom, Dana are attending a conference. After a night on the Las Vegas strip and a bit too much champagne, the couple confess to Dana, that they've always loved each other.

The next morning, Jake and Samantha wake up in bed together. A marriage certificate and a cryptic note from the now-absent Dana are on the night stand! Jake takes it all in stride. Samantha is mortified. The children are overjoyed. They all live together at Samantha's home in New York while she tries to sort out the situation. In short, will she need an annulment or a divorce?

Anna Larence's "The Preacher's Wife" is the strongest story in the collection. Church secretary Cynthia Thomason is a widow with a grown daughter. When a new minister comes to lead the small town Georgia church she attends, not everyone is pleased. Church politics and machinations begin.

After only three weeks in town, Rev. Anthony Washington, the young, good-looking minister has already "been invited to more teas and slipped more telephone numbers for supposed prayer requests, which turned out to be dating game requests, than he knew what to do with." Parishioners invited him over and expected him to date their daughters, nieces or granddaughters. When he refuses the attention of women in the church, rumors circulate that the minister is gay, married or a playboy.

What's a single man who's been celibate for nine years to do?

Cynthia agrees to invite him over to meet her daughter to save his reputation from the church gossip mongers. Her matchmaking hits a snag when the good reverend informs her that she and not her daughter is the answer to his prayers.

Ronda Shepard, the main character in Gail McFarland's "This Side of Forever," is starting a new life in a small town. Her career as an architect ended abruptly after her boss and former lover stole her heart and her award-winning idea. She has bought a small, but successful nursery and florist shop in Virginia after the previous owners retired.

William Russell is an award-winning journalist. He's also a widower with two children. At his sister's urging he has begun to go out on dates . . . from hell.

Ronda and Bill's mothers meet and immediately like each other. They conspire to get their children together. "We ought to try to get them together, our two kids. It's not like they're seeing anybody now, is it? If they hate each other, at least we tried, and if they like each other, who knows we could wind up in-laws."

When Bill and Ronda meet, they are attracted to each other. They have both been hurt and bring a lot of baggage with them. The characters are believable, the dialogue is crisp and funny . . . and Bill's two kids are adorable.

Arabesque's Bouquet is a collection of stories that work well together as a unit. There are subtle touches of humor and several laugh-out-loud plot twists. As I mentioned, "The Preacher's Wife is, perhaps the strongest (and the longest) story in the collection. However, no story would rate less than a three-heart rating. Bouquet is cheery like an assortment of spring flowers and very pleasant on the senses.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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