A Bouquet of Babies
by Linda Howard, Paula Detmer Riggs, & Stella Bagwell
(Silhouette, $6.50, R) ISBN 0-373-48405-4
I picked up A Bouquet of Babies despite my growing exasperation with the plethora of “baby” books that currently plagues the romance genre. It did, after all, contain an old Linda Howard novella that I had never read. Also, Paula Detmer Riggs is an author who rarely disappoints. So I guess I am guilty of encouraging the publishers to continue turning out books with bouncing babies on the cover. Please forgive me, all you who have expressed similar sentiments about these omnipresent infants.

The Linda Howard novella does not disappoint. Nobody does better alpha heroes than Howard, but rarely has she so poignantly explained why her hero is the way he is than in “The Way Home.” Saxon Malone makes it clear to Anna Sharp what there relationship will be in the first paragraph of the Prologue: “You can be either my secretary or my mistress, but you can’t be both. Choose.” He also makes it clear that he will never marry Anna or anybody. Anna, deeply in love with Saxon, chooses to be his mistress.

Two years later, Anna knows little more about the man she loves than she did at the start of their relationship. She knows he is a highly successful businessman and engineer; she knows that he is a passionate and caring lover; she knows that he remains deeply afraid of intimacy and dependency. And she knows that their relationship may well be over. Anna is pregnant. She cannot continue as Saxon’s mistress and she does not believe he will marry her.

The prospect of losing Anna forces Saxon to open up about his tragic past and to admit his deep need for her. The path to a happy ending takes some interesting twists and turns. This is a deeply wounded man. Howard’s talent shines as she takes us on Saxon’s journey to healing. I will reread this powerful story.

Paula Detmer Riggs’ entry, “Family by Fate”, is quite enjoyable and, like many of her stories, offers us a truly wounded hero. Lisa Vargas met Max Savage in a most unusual fashion -- in the middle of an avalanche. The two sought shelter in an isolated cabin and discovered true love. Max wanted them to get married immediately, but Lisa had to go abroad for her job. By the time she returned to Portland and discovered she was pregnant, she found that Max’s phone had been disconnected and he had disappeared from sight. Four months later, she unexpectedly runs into Max, driving by in a car. Max basically says, “It was nice knowing you, I’ll provide child support, but don’t bother me.” Lisa is understandably P.O’d.

Then Lisa discovers the reasons for Max’s inexplicable act. Shortly after they parted, Max, an undercover detective, was shot and paralyzed from the waist down. He thinks he is doing Lisa and their unborn child a favor by not saddling them with a cripple. It’s up to Lisa to convince Max that he is wrong. Detmer has dealt sympathetically with such heroes before and in “Family by Fate ‘ she provides another well done story of the painful adjustment that a paraplegic must make to life. The anger, the despair, the embarrassment, are all drawn with a sure hand, as is the healing power of love.

Stella Bagwell’s novella, “Baby on Her Doorstep” is the only one of the three that has a real, live baby as part of the story. While it is not as powerful or unusual as the first two, it is quite acceptable, if somewhat formulaic. Caroline Pardee, a successful jewelry designer and gallery owner in Santa Fe, opens her door one night and discovers a five day old infant on her doorstep.

But this is an unusual abandonment, because the baby comes complete with diapers, formula and a birth certificate plus a letter from the mother turning over custody to the father named thereon. It turns out that whoever left the child had picked the wrong house. The baby belongs to Caroline’s neighbor, Joseph Garcia.

Joe has just retired after twenty years in the service. He admits that he had a relationship with the baby’s mother, but insists that he is completely incapable of caring for a child. It is up to Caroline to convince Joe that he is worthy both of fatherhood and of love, no easy task.

Evaluating an anthology is usually difficult, but not in this case. One excellent story, one good story and one acceptable story lead to a recommendation. And, after all, there is really only one baby in the book. These stories are really about learning to accept and offer love, which is the essence of romance.

--Jean Mason

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