Destiny by Shelby Lewis
(Arabesque/BET, $5.99, PG) ISBN 1-58314-100-6
Hannibal Ray knew it was time put an end to his existence in Half Dead, Texas, when his childhood nemesis publicly bested him in a fistfight. Without a backward glance, Hannibal drove his worn-out silver Chevy truck away from Half Dead to eke out a life elsewhere. He was a drifter, an “easygoing, plain-living, hardworking” guy who “seldom stayed in a single place long enough to make a serious statement about his worth as a man. Because he moved often, he gave himself little time to be content, not even for love.”

Hannibal moved from town to town and from job to job until the winter cold began to set in. He needs a place to settle in until spring. Fate leads him to Destiny, Oklahoma. A local newspaper ad leads him to Josephine Brennon’s farmhouse. There he receivs an immediate offer of work as a handyman that includs room and board.

Initially, he doesn’t quite know what to make of the reclusive Josephine. Hannibal soon learns that he will have a more difficult job clearing away the rubble around her life than with any of the much need repairs around the farm. After years of practice, Josephine has elevated hiding away in her house camouflaged beneath brown clothing to an art form.

Josephine is enthralled by Hannibal and everything he represents. To her, he is a worldly man who has seen life beyond the self-imposed boundaries of her white picket fence and the limits of Destiny. Hannibal provides a powerful contrast to the scared, scarred woman she has become.

Destiny is full of wonderful word pictures, plot devices and metaphors that appeal to the English major in me. It is a slow and easy novel, and may not appeal to the hasty reader. The patient reader will be rewarded. Shelby Lewis’ story is full of sexual tension and contradictions. Destiny is a throwback to a simpler time. Comparisons with the pacing and small-town settings of Geri Guillaume’s Be Mine and Curtiss Ann Matlock’s If Wishes Were Horses come to mind.

Shelby Lewis has created main characters who outwardly appear to be drawn by the differences, when in fact, it is their longing for the same basic needs that attract them. Hannibal=s seduction of Josephine comes from experience. “Of all the men she had seen in classic films or read about in classic books, this man was the king of seduction. She felt as if her clothes were falling off.”

Josephine’s powers of seduction are more instinctive. Her careful preparation and presentation of meals are seductive. Their first night together she captivats him with smothered chicken, turnip greens, and biscuits. Through the author’s economical narrative, the reader picks up a sense of the erotic in Josephine=s choice of spiced peaches for dessert. “She was in her element, and wanted to share this part of her complicated life with the man who had come to her from a place she would never know . . . The sharing of food was a big deal to Josephine. Food was her gift to the world, her thanks to God for the chance to be alive; and perhaps, if she dared to believe, it was He who had delivered Hannibal into Destiny, into her very own paradise.”

But there are snakes in Josephine=s paradise in the form of Reverend Grady Franklin, Sisters Shirley Louise and Bea, and her Aunt Cordelia. Shelby Lewis has created a novel that exists on several levels. Beyond the story of Hannibal and Josephine, Destiny is a story of betrayal, of old wounds, of family secrets and of small-town mores and hypocrisies.

Destiny is Shelby Lewis’ first novel in more than three years. Her romantic suspense novels, Delicious and Sensation followed the exploits of caterer Bailey Walker and her husband Sam. Destiny is definitely worth the wait. I recommend it.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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