As Long As There Is Love
by Karen White-Owens, contemporary (2002)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-369-6

This is Karen White-Owens' debut. She's, oh, twenty years too late. As Long As There Is Love will make a splash in 1980, but I don't think this tale of silly misunderstandings and secret babies will be heating up anything but the panties of the most die-hard of Silhouette and Harlequin readers. Even then, it's still a tough sell thanks to clunky characterization and plot contrivances that are stretched so far apart that it will snap any moment soon if Ms White-Owens isn't too careful.

A few years ago Cameron Butler - that's the heroine - and Marek Redding had a very mad affair. He's an MD in training, a future pediatrician to be exact, and she is a college gal. I guess in the 1970s condoms and birth control pills haven't been invented yet, because these educated people shagged so much that she got pregnant. Then she discovers her man in bed with her so-called best friend (it's a set-up by this slutty ho, naturally), and that's it. She walks out, leaves him, and cheerfully becomes a single mother, leaving Marek in the dark about his impending daddyhood. Bye bye college dreams, bye bye ambitions, hello Cammy.

Today, she teaches at a kiddie daycare thing like Little Darlings, and her problem begins when a kid, Justin, is injured while under her care. At the hospital, guess who's the doctor in charge? That's right, Marek. When he realizes that he has a daughter named Jayla, he wants to be back in Cammy's life again. But can Cammy forgive?

I mean, if you think she is in the position to forgive, that is, because I certainly don't. This woman is a mess. First, she says that she still loves him even after all these years while she is nursing intense anger over his supposed infidelity. You figure that out, I don't want the headache. A nice and kind lawyer wants them to do the thang, but she doesn't want to, because she's in love with Marek. Eh? Then she says that she can never trust Marek again. What? But it's okay, she'll let him see Jayla and all, because Jayla is three and she is definitely old enough to ask questions about the birds and the bees. Personally, I think a three-year old kid can easily be fibbed off with something sweet and harmless like "Your daddy? Oh, three years ago he crossed the street, got run down by a truck, and the dogs ate his body before Momma could get to him and bury that bastard in a ditch. Now eat your cornflakes dear." But maybe Ms White-Owens know more precocious kids than I do. (I understand kids don't like coming near me much, and the feeling's mutual.)

And here's my favorite: she decides that Marek can only have minimal participation in Jayla's life, but Marek must report to her whenever he leaves town so that he won't disappear and make Jayla sad all over again. If this doesn't show how whacked Cammy is in the head, I don't know what will.

Then again, Marek is no prize either. For goodness sake, I'd think a man who wants to woo his way back to his girlie's heart will pop down to the nearest florist and get a nice bouquet of blooms, or at least reserve a table at a romantic restaurant first. He's a doctor, it's not as if he can't afford a romantic courtship. (Of course, you can say that as a doctor, he may have no time, but in this book, Marek seems to spend only two hours a day tending his patients.) But no, Marek must charge in and high-handedly tells Cammy that he's the daddy, he's coming in, so watch out, gal, or he'll smack a lawsuit at her face. Nice way to win back your girlie, dude.

I'd think Ms White-Owens, a woman writing for a predominantly female audience, will be a bit more generous and create a hero who knows how to treat the heroine like a queen ("Here's caviar, baby, here's a thousand karat rings, and all my six credit cards for you to use, baby, and oh yes, whack me with that birch until you have forgiven me, baby!"), but I guess somehow aliens have zapped us romance readers and replaced us all with pod people who will swoon at the thought of being treated like meat by jocks in heat.

And of course, this whole book will be only fifty pages long if these people talk and listen. That won't do, will it, only fifty pages? So everybody takes turn not listening to the other. In the meantime, SuperGrandmother plays the Mary Sue matchmaker. This is Big Misunderstanding at its most painfully contrived, because the characters act in painfully transparent ways just to keep the misunderstanding going and going until the book is close to the end.

There's a subplot about a woman suing Cammy, but it doesn't matter. See, every woman who's a potential sexual rival for Marek ends up being written like crap. In the end, every beautiful, gorgeous woman here is a slut and bitch who is just Jealous of Beautiful, Beautiful Cameron who is Marek's True Love Foreva. Cameron + Marek 4eva!

Honestly? Frankly? This book feels as if it was written by a fifteen-year old gal who sees every other gal around her as an unworthy rival for the football captain and who still treats romance as some sort of game where it's cute that the people just bicker, snog, bicker again, and snog.

As Long As There Is Love doesn't cut it anymore, I'm afraid. There should also be communication, trust, a decent conflict, and oh yes, it really won't kill if non-heroine, non-family member, non-best friend women are portrayed in a more favorable light once in a while. We're no longer in the cheerleading squad, we are big gals now who don't need to believe that every other woman out there is crap just to feel secure about ourselves.

We also try not to name our daughters Cameron unless we are sure that they will grow up to look like that Diaz floozie. Kids in the playground can be very cruel.

Rating: 48

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