Through the Storm
by Beverly Jenkins
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-385-47601-9
****
Raimond LeVeq was introduced in Beverly Jenkins' third novel, Indigo, as the friend and business partner of that novel's hero, Galen Vachon. When Galen began to pursue Hester Wyatt, Raimond found his friend's free-fall into love and marriage amusing. Galen wished a similar fate for Raimond: "May you be as moonsick as this someday and may I be around to laugh with the same enjoyment." Galen Vachon and hundreds of Beverly Jenkins fans, who wrote her to ask that Raimond LeVeq's story be told, have waited a long time for his comeuppance.

Through the Storm begins in 1864, approximately six years after the close of Indigo. The former abolitionist is now Major Raimond LeVeq, commander of a contraband camp in Georgia "where escaped slaves can stay until the government decides what to do with them."

Sable Fontaine is the descendant of an enslaved African queen, part of an African matrilineal society with a tragic American past. She is also the daughter of plantation owner, Carson Fontaine. The war has been hard on the Fontaines. Sable escapes as she is about to be sold to an abusive slave master. She meets Raimond on the road to freedom and he takes her to the camp.

Jenkins' pairing and development of the two main characters are perfect. Raimond is the quintessential Alpha male. Only a true regent could capture the heart of "His Royal Arrogantness" and keep him in check. The bantering between the two is fun as Sable tells him that he is so bigheaded his "hats must explode quite regularly."

Sable has vowed that she will not squander her freedom even for Raimond. As their relationship escalates, Raimond offers to send her to his mother in New Orleans to keep her out of harm's way and, as his mistress once the war ends. Sable immediately scoffs at the idea:

"Major, Major, Major. Having so many women at your disposal has definitely been unhealthy for you. I have no desire to be your mistress or anyone else's . . . I have been a slave for thirty years, subject to the whims of whoever owned me. Why in heaven would I trade my newly found freedom for a different kind of enslavement?"

Sable's ruthless new owner tracks her to the contraband camp. Fearing re-enslavement, she runs away taking Raimond's money and his heart.

After the war, fate brings Sable to New Orleans and a chance meeting with Raimond's mother and his brothers collectively known as "The Brats." The LeVeqs, unaware of her relationship with Raimond, welcome her into their midst. When Raimond later returns from the war, he is bitter from his ill-fated romance with Sable and has vowed never to fall in love again.

But the LeVeqs, like many Southern businesses and families, incurred great losses during the war. As the eldest, Raimond decides to help the family by claiming his inheritance. Under the terms of his great-grandfather's will, Raimond must marry and sire a child within two years of the marriage. The confirmed bachelor has decided to claim his legacy, but his Sable-damaged heart will not allow him to participate in the selection process. Raimond asks his mother to pick his bride and she chooses Sable. Raimond doesn't trust Sable, but enters into a marriage of convenience for his family's sake.

It is no secret that Beverly Jenkins is one of my favorite authors. Why?

When I pick up a Beverly Jenkins novel, I expect a well-written novel of the love between smart, feisty, funny women and strong, sexy and sensitive men complete with steamy love scenes and a touch of humor. I expect to find strong peripheral and secondary characters who support the main characters and who help define the story without getting in the way. I expect to find an African-American historical figure or two lurking somewhere in the story. I expect all these elements neatly wrapped within untold or little-known African-American history facts. And I expect a bibliography with sources for additional reading on the period covered in the novel. She always delivers.

Through the Storm is a very basic marriage of convenience/second chance story. But the novel works for me on several other levels. For example, Sable Fontaine is a fictional role model of humility, self-respect and women who establish the ground rules in their relationships with me. She controls the pace and tone of her relationship with Raimond. In their moments together, Sable is not haughty, but carries herself like a queen. She demands that he treat her with royal respect despite the fact that she is a penniless orphan and former slave and Raimond is a member of a socially prominent family and is freeborn.

Beverly Jenkins also makes subtle statements about racism, civic responsibility, racial identity, classism and making the most of an opportunity. Through the Storm contains a lot of historical fact and may not appeal to readers who prefer their history in small doses or merely to establish a time frame. I've rated this book PG-13, rather than the R-rating Jenkins' books generally require. The love scenes are still steamy, but there aren't as many or as intense.

Through the Storm is a spin-off from Indigo that stands on its own merits. (But oh, what a treat the 1996 novel is.) Loyal Jenkins fans will enjoy being reacquainted with Indigo characters Galen and Hester Vachon and Andre Renaud and being updated on other characters.

In my desire to be objective, I have probably done Beverly Jenkins and Through the Storm a disservice by rating it only four hearts. I strongly recommend this book. Through the Storm is a definite keeper for me. I've already read it more than once and have discovered new elements in it each time. However, I'm willing to admit that a "Gwen Osborne five" and a TRR five may be different in this case. So there's another heart at the top of this review, you just can't see it.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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