This Child of Mine
by Darlene Graham
(Harlequin Super. #958, $4.50, G) ISBN 0-373-70958-7
Twenty-eight-year-old Kitt Stevens is an attorney, working as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., for a non-profit agency, the Coalition for Responsible Media. The CRM is lobbying for a new media regulation bill that will help protect children from violent and sexually explicit music, videos, and Internet content. Tonight Kitt is attending a cocktail party in order to meet Marcus Masters, a media mogul, so that she can try to persuade him not to oppose the bill, due to be voted on by the House in the not-too-distant future.

When Marcus Masters is pointed out to her, Kitt is very much surprised. The man helping himself liberally to the hors d'oeuvres looks far too young and far too hungry to be the robber baron who owns 86 diversified media companies. In fact, Kitt has been misinformed. The young man is not Marcus Masters but his son, Mark.

Mark Masters is both the developer of LinkServe - which he describes as a "neat, linked communications system" - and a struggling intern, newly arrived in D.C. to work for a congressman. He has resigned from Masters Multimedia, turned LinkServe over to his father for testing, and is striking out on his own, living (mostly) on an intern's meager salary and what he earns as a stringer for a Dallas newspaper.

Mark has a secret. He is a single parent, raising his four-year-old daughter with the help of his 19-year-old sister, Carly. Tanni's mother wanted to end her pregnancy with an abortion, but Mark wanted the baby. He paid Tiffany to carry the pregnancy to term, then took the baby home for his mother to help raise. His mother died of breast cancer two years later, and since then Carly has lived with him and taken care of Tanni. Now Mark has decided not to tell his dates about Tanni until he is sure he is dating The One because he doesn't want the little girl getting attached to women who are only passing through.

Kitt Stevens has an even bigger secret. She too had a baby four years ago, while she was in law school, but she gave her baby up for adoption. That decision is still so painful that she has told no one who knows her now about her pregnancy, not her father, not her brothers, not even the father of the baby. He believed she had gotten the abortion as he urged. Kitt has given up all thoughts of marrying; she hasn't even dated since she gave the baby up. She is unprepared for the strong chemistry between her and Mark that draws them closer and closer, in spite of Kitt's determination not to enter into another serious relationship.

All the characters in This Child of Mine ring true, beginning with Mark's sister. Carly is at once the typical 19-year-old, not sure what she wants to do with her life, not quite ready for the daily routine of childcare, yet mature beyond her years in other ways. Kitt's agonizing worry over the fate of her baby amply explained her ability to wear size 4 clothes - a fact I might otherwise have actively resented - and Mark's acrimonious relationship with his father - which Kitt helps clarify - kept him from being too understanding to be true.

In addition to the realistically drawn lovers, This Child of Mine provides a believable view of life in Washington, D.C., for transient laborers in the political fields. Kitt has been in Washington for about a year; Mark's internship is only for eight weeks. Kitt may be just passing through; Mark - and with him his sister and his child - definitely is.

One of the ways newcomers find a place for themselves in a new community is by joining a church or synagogue. That is exactly what Kitt and Mark and Carly have done. They attend Sunday morning services; Tanni goes to Sunday school. I found that both unusual in the romance novels I have read and quite convincing. I also found it convincing that religion should play a role in the resolution of Kitt's problems.

Although This Child of Mine strikes a slightly preachy tone in its last 20 pages, I was able to forgive Graham for briefly mounting her soapbox. For the most part, sympathetic characters, a romance with sizzle, compelling reasons keeping the lovers apart…all made for an enjoyable reading experience.

--Nancy J. Silberstein

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