At Long Last Love

A Love of Her Own by Bettye Griffin
(Arabesque/BET, $4.99, PG) ISBN 1-58314-053-0
Bettye Griffin returns to the Florida towns of Nile Beach and Palmdale, the setting for her first novel, At Long Last Love. I like continuing stories set in fictional locales because they are populated with lots of interesting characters. One can get a real feeling for the people and gain a sense of place that adds to the enjoyment of the story. Adrienne Ellis Reeves' Jamison, South Carolina; Candice Poarch's Nottaway, Virginia; and Bettye Griffin's Palmdale, Florida are all like that.

Ava Maxwell, Kendall Lucas and Vicky Sanders have been best friends since high school. Kendall's brother Barry used to call them "Ike, Mike and Just Alike." In At Long Last Love, fellow restaurateurs Kendall Lucas and Spencer Barnes met and married. And Vicky was reunited with her high school beau, Danny Graves and agreed to marry him.

A Love of Her Own is Ava's story.

Ava Maxwell runs a successful bridal salon. After the devastating break up of her own marriage, she has given up on love. "Love is kind of like the flu. I had that Hong Kong strain when I was six. It just about wiped me out, but I haven't had the flu since."

Those who have read the first novel know that Ava's aversion to love and marriage stems from her inability to have children. Ava avoids or terminates any relationship in which she suspects a man wants to have children. But Ava has an incredibly strong maternal streak. Everyone in town seems to know and take advantage of it. She is often called into action to babysit at a moment's notice. Ava's concern for children also extends to an eight-year-old would-be purse snatcher who is destined for a life of trouble on the streets without the positive intervention she provides.

At a social gathering, Ava meets Hilton White, owner of Husbands for Hire, a business that does odd jobs. In the words of a song by Joe, Husbands for Hire does "all the things your man won't do." (The business and the name had such great possibilities, I was a bit disappointed that it wasn't developed more within the plot.)

Hilton is a divorced father with a school age son who lives with his mother. After their first shaky encounters, Ava discovers she is attracted to him. However, because of her inability to have children and his desire to have more, she backpedals out of a romantic relationship. They do, however, agree on a course of action involving the child she has befriended.

The chemistry between Ava and Hilton is believable. The relationship develops in a realistic manner and pace. There are challenges. Ava's insecurity and inability to trust and the appearance of Hilton's son and ex-wife present minor irritations for the couple.

It is easy to compare the author's first two books. The strength of At Long Last Love was its interesting secondary characters -- several which could have developed into interesting spin-off romances. And while it was logical for Ava, the remaining member of the high school trio introduced in the first novel, to have her own story, I secretly was hoping for more of Michelle Barnes' and David Ridgely's story.

That said, A Love of Her Own is worth a look.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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