Toni Shaw was briefly introduced in Janice Sims’ 1997 novella “To Love Again” in the Love Letters anthology. She was one of three coeds who attended Berkeley during the sixties. A few months later, Toni reemerged as a pivotal secondary character in All the Right Reasons. (I strongly recommend the earlier stories which are still available.)
Toni Shaw was the only child of a New Orleans railroad worker and a schoolteacher. After twelve years of Catholic school education, Toni earned a scholarship to Berkeley. It was 1967 and the California campus sparked her sense of justice. Toni developed a reputation as a campus activist.
“Her group addressed all forms of social ills, from racial equality to sexual equality . . . A child of the South, which when she was growing up, wasn’t a place that encouraged free expression from young black women, Toni found that here she had a voice ad used it often and vociferously”
During her freshman year, Toni met an upperclassman, Charles Edward Waters. She initially spurned his attention, but he soon broke through her defenses. They fell in love and were inseparable until Charles took her home to meet his family. Although he truly loved Toni, his rebellious streak took delight in bringing home a woman he knew they would immediately find unsuitable. Their weekend in Boston effectively ended their relationship.
Toni later discovered she was pregnant. When she told Charles, he rejected her. Toni went on about her life, earning undergraduate and graduate degrees at Berkeley, raising her twin daughters, continuing her activism and carving out a successful career as romance novelist Serena Kincaid. (All the Right Reasons outlines Charles Waters reappearance in her life through the story of her daughter Georgette.)
A Second Chance at Love begins three years after the close of All the Right Reasons. Charles has again been relentless in his pursuit of Toni. But at 51, she has not forgotten Charles’ abandonment when she needed him most. Toni and Charles have carried on a secret affair during those three years. And, while Charles wants to go public and get married, Toni has reservations. How can she tell her family and friends that she has reconciled with Charles after his betrayal more than 30 years before?
“I’m ashamed to say, I love him so much, I’m afraid of losing him . . . I feel as if I’ve betrayed myself . . . All those years of hating him for what he did. Dreaming up ways to exact revenge. Making him pay for the pain he put me through. Now it’s like he’s a whole different person. He’s not the Chuck I knew back then . . . ”
Charles and Toni’s story is a compelling story that might have worked well as a novella. Unfortunately, their story is not the only romance showcased in A Second Chance at Love. Janice Sims has constructed an ensemble romance with stories or mentions of no fewer than seven couples seeking a second chance at love. Somehow, the author’s talent pulls most of it together for an interesting romantic suspense about the fear of loving and losing. The scenes quickly move around to San Francisco, Miami, Boston, New Orleans and Ethiopia. It makes for a very, very busy book that, grudgingly, I enjoyed.
The cover on this book is a collector’s item. I cannot recall another romance novel in which both the hero and heroine were over forty.
A Second Chance at Love struck a chord with me because Toni and I are contemporaries. She is a great heroine. What's not to like? She's strong, feisty and has her life on track. During her years apart from Charles, Toni has not been in mourning for the demise of their relationship. Her misgivings are focused on her relationship with Charles is not a blanket distrust of all men. She raised two successful independent daughters who have healthy relationships with the men in their lives. For her part, Toni has had an active social life of friends and lovers. She is a well-drawn character, so much like many real-life women I know. That said, I just wish the author had trusted Charles and Toni enough to allow them to carry the book without such an overwhelming supporting cast and multiple subplots. After all, Baby Boomers need love, too.