Heart's Desire by Monica Jackson
(Arabesque, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-7860-0532-7
***
For 30 years, Kara Smith has been living a lie. Raised by her single mother in a strict religious community in rural Georgia, she had been told her father was dead. On her deathbed, Kara's mother revealed that her father was very much alive and well and living in Washington, D.C. Years before he had become the powerful Black conservative congressman Sidney Eastman, a love child by a poor, uneducated girl didn't fit into his career path. He'd left a hefty check and assumed that his child was either aborted or adopted.

Kara apparently was absent from Sunday School during the "vengeance is mine" and "forgive and forget" lessons. Disillusioned by her life and the ambiguities of the strict religious sect's teachings, she sells the house in Georgia and hightails it to Washington hell bent on revenge. Her "unformed and unfinished plan" is to get close to the congressman and punish him for abandoning her by ruining his political career.

Kara really should have formed and finished that plan before she left Georgia. Before you can say "Beltway," things start to unravel. She lands a clerical job in the congressman's office and decides to use Brent Stevens, her father's right hand man, to get incriminating information to ruin the politician. After an implausible attempt to seduce Brent, she gets enough evidence to blackmail the congressman's assistant into giving her a more visible position in the office.

She gets caught in her own trap when she becomes attracted to Brent. He is drawn to Kara but Brent isn't going to get caught with his pants down – again. He doesn't trust her, but decides to hire her as his personal assistant while he's having her investigated. Brent can also keep an eye (and often a hand) on her.

Meanwhile, Kara abandons her plan for revenge but gets caught up in the lives of her new "family." As in her first novel, Midnight Blue, Monica Jackson creates a family that puts the "funk" in dysfunction. Kara soon discovers that Sidney Eastman's abandonment three decades ago may have been the best thing that ever happened to her. Father only knows best when it's politically expedient.

There are family skeletons and angst galore. Her younger sister Jenny, Brent's ex-fiancée "was obviously still in love with the man Kara was attracted to, she'd probably have to fend off her brother's advances and she couldn't stand her father... Her stepmother unknowingly accused her of sleeping with her father."

Heart's Desire is a lot like one of my favorite sports teams. A strong cast of secondary characters give the novel much needed bench strength. They pose and answer most of the questions the reader is bound to have about the main characters actions. Kara's psychic neighbor, Taylor, steals almost every scene she's in and would make a great spin-off character. After a sluggish first quarter – marked by an incongruous seduction and Kara's physical and metaphysical metamorphosis – Heart's Desire settles into an engaging love story with a just a touch of farce.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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