I was saddened earlier this year by Candice Poarch's announcement that she was discontinuing her Nottaway, Virginia series. I will miss keeping up with the Joneses...and the Dyes, Jordans, Chances and Blakes. I am just as happy to report that Adrienne Ellis Reeves has written another romance set in Jamison, South Carolina. The series includes Love's Promise, Change of Heart, Heaven Knows, and "Keepsake," a short story in the 1997 holiday anthology, Moonlight and Mistletoe.
Caterer Leah Givens was a walk-on character in "Keepsake." Destined is her story.
Days before her eighteenth birthday, Leah Givens married her high school sweetheart, Bill Johnson. Leah's domineering father punished her for not being the son he had coveted. His manner toward her became more overbearing after the death of her mother. Although her father did not approve of her relationship with Bill (or with anyone else for that matter), the couple eloped and moved to Raleigh, North Carolina.
Young love is often blind. In these newlywed's case, it was also deaf and dumb. They couldn't have provided more clues where they went if they had left a trail of bread crumbs. Leah's father tracked them down through their listed telephone number, waited until Bill went to work and forced his daughter to leave with him. Mr. Givens threatened to have his new son-in-law arrested for "taking a minor across state lines for immoral purposes." When Bill came home from work, his bride was gone and his six-week honeymoon was order.
Destined begins thirteen years later.
Leah has returned to Jamison and opened a successful catering business. Her father has died. She is the mother of a four-year-old daughter. One day Bill literally shows up on her door step. As one might imagine, Leah does not take his sudden reappearance well. "How could the boy she'd married thirteen years earlier and who had disappeared and been rumored dead be standing here before her?" She faints at his feet.
While Leah and the reader have many unanswered questions, Bill is perfectly happy to pick up things where they left off. As far as he is concerned, she is still his wife. However, while Leah doesn't doubt that she still loves him, a lot has happened since 1985. She prefers to take things slowly.
Adrienne Ellis Reeves has done a good job reconstructing the small-town Southern charm that is Jamison. You can almost see the azaleas and the Spanish moss hanging from the trees. It is good to catch up with old friends like Glennette and James Ellington, Beth Jordan and Cy Brewster, and Gary and Kimberley Raeford. Reeves fans might notice this review of Destined sports a PG rating, rather than the normal G which accompanies the author's earlier romances.
While the author has a hard and fast rule prohibiting sex before marriage, this couple has been married.
The current relationship between Bill and Leah is warm and credible. However, their
explanations for the thirteen-year absence in each other's lives strained reality for me. I couldn't buy into the premise for their separation. Given Leah's father's obvious objections to the couple's four-year relationship, why couldn't they have waited a few more weeks until Leah was eighteen and could legally marry? Real life is full of "what-ifs." But the author's development of these two characters indicate they would not have taken that step.