Welcome To Leo's
by Rochelle Alers, Donna Hill, Brenda Jackson, and Francis Ray; contemporary (2000)
St Martin's Press, $6.50, ISBN 0-312-97588-0

Welcome To Leo's is the fourth St Martin's anthology by bestselling African-American romance novelists, and fourth time around has this anthology smelling of rehashih too close for comfort. There's the now obligatory senior-citizen-with-youngster's-body slowburn romance (Rochelle Alers) and three youngsters-gettin'-it-on tales, this time all sharing a common thread in that an upscale Washington, DC diner called Leo's figures in them somewhere.

Rochelle Alers' Second Chance features old geezers falling in love again. Free from menopause, pension glitches, cellulite, love handles, and any old-age nuisances, this novella has megaworkaholic party planner Leigh Walcott injuring her leg while carrying too many shopping bags in the rain (every husband's revenge fantasy?). She is treated by handsome doc Scott Alexander, and sparks fly in a slow, simmery manner.

I don't even know these people are in their 50s until the author hits me in the head with their age later in the story because their beauty are described more apropos to fashionspread centerfolds. It makes a nice fantasy, but the novella, even at 86 pages, becomes too long when the conflict stems from Leigh's reluctance to commit and Scott's willingness to castigate her for it. It's like watching two childish but otherwise perfect people dating and pouting - not too interesting. Pleasant, but little else.

I haven't had the chance to read a Donna Hill full-length novel, but I'm fast becoming intrigued by her works. Her novella Eye Of The Beholder is the best of the lot. It features a ridiculously puritannical heroine, Jae Crawford, who manages to get to the top of the academia rung while holding on to her momma's preachings to keep her legs closed until a man makes her warm inside. (Dangerous advice, Mom - haven't you heard of hormones?) She has to be dragged by her friend to Leo's on her birthday, convinced as she is that anything apart from her church is a den of sin. No fear, Leo's entertainment manager Clyde Burrell will teach her that sin is good. In fact, Jae will get a brand new religious experience in Clyde's delicious Sunday schooling.

Clyde traps himself in a corner when he tells Jae he is an accountant. She likes accountants, they are proper gentlemen who are just what her preacher parents told her she needs in her life. This lie doesn't become the main conflict, thankfully, and EOTB instead concentrates on Jae's transformation from Bertha Browncow to Toni Braxton. It's fun, and it's unfortunate that its short length prevents it from being more fully fleshed. Still, humor and sparkling romance makes this one a cut above the rest.

Brenda Jackson's Main Agenda is a reunion story between attorney Lincoln Corbain and journalist Raven Anderson. She doesn't want a man to hold her back in her career, however, and they will have to compromise at the end of 86 pages.

This one loses me fast. Someone should tell this author that 86 pages is not a good place to cram in as many secondary characters as possible. I am a novice to this author's works, and I am pretty sure the barrage of characters are from past novels I have never read before. It's very, very confusing. When I take a peek at Gwen Osborne's review at The Romance Reader to make sense of this novella, I realize these characters are all brand-new. Now I'm more confused.

File this one under Too many things going on, too little space.

Sweet Temptation by Francis Ray closes the anthology. It has a Texas Ranger guy, Chase Braxton, meeting candy store owner Julia Ferrington over a blind date. But Chase is in Washington only for a few weeks, and Julia isn't sure whether her shop or this man gives her better orgasms. Like Ms Alers' story, this one is a slow story of perfect bodied and perfectly beautiful people making excuses not to fall in love. It's just a matter of time, and watching these two perfect people pouting is like hearing that millionaire pop star (with that three waterfront mansions overlooking her three private islands, reachable only via her six private Concorde planes) whine about how sad her life is because, oh, she broke her nail yesterday. It's rather silly and pointless, and it drives me into a Oh get on with it! mode.

Welcome To Leo's is rather pointless in that it doesn't actually break any new grounds. It's pleasant, but that's it, really.

Rating: 74

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