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Wine and Roses by Carmen Green, Geri Guillaume & Kayla Perrin
(BET /Arabesque, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-58314-003-4
****
Arabesque's 1999 Valentine's Day anthology picks up the theme of the 1998 Christmas collection, Season's Greetings: finding love when and where you least expect it. Wine and Roses includes stories by three authors on my Emerging Authors' List: Carmen Green, Geri Guillaume and Kayla Perrin.

Carmen Green's "Sweet Sensations" begins as a really funny story about a really bad hair day and develops into a full-blown romance. Special events maven Neesie Claiborne decides to color her hair sans salon. How hard could it be? Of course, it would help if one carefully reads the directions and uses a product that hasn't been recalled by the manufacturer.

Neesie's homemade hair handiwork nets her an avant-garde do just as she's being offered a job planning a charity event for a conservative candy company. Wouldn't you know she's got her first face-to-face meeting with the client later that day Monday the one day that every salon in town is closed? Her contact person is the firm's gorgeous, but rigid career-driven human resources manager, Craig DuPont. Who said first impressions are lasting impressions? Neesie's hair horrors comprise just the first few pages of this laugh-out-loud love story I really enjoyed.

"Cupid's Day Off" is a bittersweet romance between florist Shannon Cooper and contractor Connor Harding. It's a relationship-of-convenience story. Connor's bid to build the city's new sports stadium may hit a snag unless he and his partner can prove they are a stable firm. That means root-bound, with permanent ties to the community. Read "married." When his partner can't even bring himself to say the word, Connor is selected by default. After Shannon delivers a plant to his office, Connor tries to enlist her help. Shannon will help him show up his unethical competitor if Connor agrees to volunteer his time restoring a decaying neighborhood.

Geri Guillaume's sense of humor, a cute secondary romance, Connor's parents and Shannon's relationship with her feisty, controlling grandmother, add depth to this story.

The last story is "A Perfect Fantasy" by Canadian writer Kayla Perrin. Michelle Carroll plans a week long getaway each year around Valentine's Day. She flees well-meaning family and friends, winter weather in New Jersey, and memories of being left at the altar four years ago on Valentine's Day. Her current destination is Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Michelle is horrified when attorney Kevin Brooks boards the plane as her seat mate. The more she rebuffs his attempts at even polite conversation, the more intrigued he becomes. Once they reach the island and he discovers they're staying at the same resort, Kevin's pursuit of Michelle is relentless.

The first two stories were strong fours. The combination of humor and romance were irresistible. And, while I enjoyed "A Perfect Fantasy" and would recommend it, I didn't quite get the payoff I was looking for.

Wine and Roses is a welcome addition to Arabesque's Valentine's Day anthology collection. My runaway favorite is the 1996 release, A Valentine Kiss, with stories by Carla Fredd, Brenda Jackson and Felicia Mason. It is still available as is Love Letters, the 1997 collection that includes Donna Hill's "Masquerade," a story of two lovers who meet via the Internet. (HINT: If you enjoyed You've Got Mail, you'll like "Masquerade.")

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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