At Long Last Love by Bettye Griffin
(Arabesque/BET Books, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-7860-0610-2
***
Restaurateurs make strange bedfellows in Bettye Griffin's debut novel, At Long Last Love.

Kendall Lucas owns and operates two soul food restaurants in a developing Florida tourist town. Her work is her life until Spencer Barnes, a divorced man with two pre-teen sons moves into the duplex downstairs from Kendall.

Spencer and Kendall are attracted to each other. And, after a few false starts fueled by misunderstandings, assumptions, half-truths and omissions, their relationship begins.

However, Spencer has neglected to tell her that he has moved to Florida from Atlanta to open a restaurant that would compete with Kendall's. Apparently the growing town's not big enough for them to peacefully co-exist.

Their relationship is further complicated by the fact that they are neighbors. You can run, but you can't hide. Spencer and Kendall spend an inordinate amount of time peeking out the windows and watching the parking lot for each other's comings and goings.

At Long Last Love is a good first effort from a new author. It exists on several levels fleshing out themes of communication, forgiveness, the impact of alcoholism on families, maternal instinct and the responsibilities of men within a family unit. Unfortunately, I found these secondary themes and the relationships between five other couples less complicated and more satisfying.

Kendall and Spencer genuinely seem to care for one another. The hero lost points with me because of his manipulations. He doesn't reveal extent of his business dealings in town until after he's wormed his way into her life. The heroine has a hard edge. And, although the reasons for her wariness are revealed, Kendall really needs to lighten up a bit.

Ironically, Bettye Griffin's strong suit is her characterization. The secondary characters were so well defined, they overpowered the hero and heroine. I wanted to know more about them.

Again, At Long Last Love is an interesting beginning for a new Arabesque author. It's worth a look.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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