Black Widow Bride
by Tessa Radley
(Silh. Desire #1794, $4.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-76794-3
***
Other than the deceptive title, Black Widow Bride is a good debut novel for Radley. She displays brisk pacing, a nice balance between character thinking and interacting and has given us a hero and heroine whom we can appreciate. While not perfect, it is a good story.

Damon Asteriades is a Greek living in New Zealand with a family history that rivals many tycoons. He has worked hard to sustain the family fortunes after his father passed away. We first meet him at his wedding to Felicity. She is a timid girl whom he married because he thought she would fit him without engaging his emotions too much. Her best friend, who seems to bring out the worst in him, is opposed and even tried to seduce him away the night before. Rebecca Grainger was married herself and lost her husband to apparent suicide. Rumors are that she drove him to his death. Rumors are not always what they seem.

It is now four years later. Rebecca has moved to a small town off the beaten path and is operating her own business - a shop that specializes in chocolates. She also has a son, T.J. who is four years old. His father remains a mystery, or at least one she is not sharing. Rebecca is amazed to hear from the Aristiades family after all these years. The last time she saw them was at Felicity's funeral.

Soula Aristiades, Damon's mother, wants Rebecca to help plan the wedding of her son Savvas and a young Greek girl, Demetras. Rebecca used to be a wedding planner and gave it up to get out of Auckland. The last thing she wants is to put herself in Damon's path. After all, she was in love with him years ago and had to watch her best friend marry him. She thinks he blames her for Felicity's death, in an odd kind of way. But now Damon is on her doorstep, trying to convince her to help. And when she finds out Soula has had several heart attacks and is in poor health, she can't resist.

The story follows the wedding plans and the road to a relationship between Rebecca and Damon, even as they both have secrets and have to learn to see the real person beyond the rumors and innuendos that they think are real. There are some surprises and this enriches the tale. The two alternate between fighting their attraction in order to protect themselves and taking chances to see if they can have a trusting relationship. Their struggle is engaging, though there were a few moments when the fight seemed forced. Damon was at times stubborn and almost morose. Rebecca was nothing but kind and it was hard to imagine why Damon thought she had ever been the cause of anyone's suicide. It really was not clear why she ever got the nickname "Black Widow." On the other hand, it was hard to see why Rebecca fell so hard for Damon in the past when all reports were that he was unlikable. But in the present day, their relationship made sense.

Black Widow Bride is a likable story and moves well. This is a respectable first novel and one that puts Radley on the list of authors to keep an eye on.

--Shirley Lyons


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