Ice Under Fire
by Linda Hudson-Smith
(Arabesque/BET, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-58314-72-7
Who says romance novels are not based on reality? I am writing this as the International Skating Union Grand Prix womenís competition in Lyon, France, is on television in the next room. Commentators Peggy Fleming and Dick Button are dissecting the performance of a medal contender. It is not pretty and I can empathize with Omunique Philyaw, the heroine of Linda Hudson-Smithís debut novel, Ice Under Fire.

When the novel begins, Olympic hopeful Ominique (who shares a first name with the authorís granddaughter), is seeking corporate sponsorship from Maxwellís Athletic Corporation. Her appointment is with Kenneth Maxwell, Sr., founder and CEO of the African-American athletic apparel manufacturer. When the elder Maxwell is unable to meet with her, he asks his son to take his place.

Although Kenneth Maxwell, Jr. is the marketing executive for the firm, he assumes heís meeting with a man. Heís only had two hours notice and hasnít had time to look into the briefing information he was given. True, the name might not have given him a clue. But, as a savvy businessman in the field, he should have known whom he was meeting. After all, how many Black female figure skaters are there? But when Kenneth Maxwell digs a hole, he digs in deeply. When Omunique arrives, he assumes she is the temporary secretary from an agency and begins to delegate orders -- including coffee making to her.

After their initial misunderstanding is resolved, Ken and Nique agree to work together. They recognize their mutual attraction and a very warm credible relationship develops between them. When a misguided fan begins to stalk and threaten her, Ken is determined to protect her at all costs.

One can only imagine the challenges faced by real-life African American skaters. The names Mabel Fairbanks, Rory Flack, Tai Babilonia and Debi Thomas come to mind. To her credit, Linda Hudson-Smith did not write a book about the struggles faced by an African-American figure skater.

Instead, Ice Under Fire is a very good debut novel about an athlete who overcame the death of her mother during childbirth and a childhood disability to become a confident and accomplished young woman. It is about the personal and professional sacrifices faced by Olympic figure skaters. It is a story about two busy young professionals who try to make the time to be together.

The characters are well developed and I got a sense of the fiscal and physical demands of competitive skating. The relationships between Ken and Nique and their fathers are also well-drawn. Iím not quite convinced about the realism in Kenís faux pas during his first meeting with Nique and countless ďice princessĒreferences started to wear thin. However, this is a good first effort. I enjoyed Ice Under Fire. Iím looking forward to Linda Hudson-Smithís next book.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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