Unexpected Marriage

The Secret Father by Anna Adams
(Harl. Super. # 1154, $5.25, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-71154-9
Amnesia – a powerful storyline if handled correctly – and a child the father did not know about – are combined to make an entertaining tale in The Secret Father. There are a lot of things to like in this story, but just enough problems to keep it from recommended status.

Zach Calvert was a young man (age 26) who had been tapped for a secret mission with the Navy. Zach loved to fly and was ready for the challenge. He was sent to Chicago to train, where he met and loved a young woman named Olivia Kendall. He left on his mission and never returned.

Olivia, the prominent daughter of publishing giant James Kendall, was just 21 and in love. Zach was guarded about his past and about his mission, but he was so caring, gentle and fun, Olivia overlooked his flaws. When he did not return, she started investigating where he could have gone, only to discover that a newspaper reported he had died. She was devastated. Two days earlier she had discovered she was pregnant with his child. Fearful and vulnerable, she told only her father and didn’t even try to find Zach’s family.

Olivia’s son Evan Zachary is now 6 years old. He is a beautiful boy, often serious but loved by his mother and grandfather. He is overly protected because as a baby the family had received some threats of kidnapping. Olivia has had to stand on her own two feet, and at times fought her father for her independence. She is now the editor of one of the family’s magazines and she and Evan share a condo in Chicago.

Zach did not die. He suffered terrible injuries in his effort to save a fellow officer, a woman with whom he was great friends. He has minimal memories of the rescue attempt, only knowing that there was gunfire, a crash and death for his friend. Zach survived with the loss of memory dating back two years prior to the mission. He is now in the hometown of all the Calverts – Bardill’s Ridge, Tennessee, in the heart of the Smoky Mountains. Zach has been involved in a short-lived marriage and produced one lovely daughter, Lily. He is the town sheriff and enjoying his life – mostly – He feels a lot of unresolved guilt from the accident and feels something is missing.

What is missing is Olivia and Evan. Olivia discovers Zach is alive by accident. He stops a robbery and the national press picks up his picture and the story. Olivia doesn’t know what happened, but feels she must give him the chance to meet Evan, and Evan a chance to have a father.

What follows is an engaging tale with emotions exposed, love rekindled and the blossoming of a wonderful father-son relationship. Olivia also learns to love Lily and her dreams of the future start to bloom. But her level of hurt and mistrust are tested and Zach must deal with the accident before he can commit to a future.

Zach is a man of convictions, yet has really suffered in silence for way too long. It takes him a long time to get up the nerve to confront the past, and at times this just doesn’t work well. He also seems to harbor no real angst that two years are missing from his life. This just doesn’t ring true all the time. He is surrounded by a large extended family and they have allowed him to live without really living. Overall, however, the family is just the kind you would expect in Small Town USA.

Olivia talks about her vulnerability, but she takes life by the horn from the beginning. Her feisty attitude and willingness to do all for her son made her a favorite of mine. She stands up to her father and Zach and she puts her money where her mouth is when she feels they are being obstinate. At one point, she cuts herself off from her father and at another refuses to see Zach until he comes to his senses. Definitely no doormat material here!

Unfortunately, the plot left a little to be desired. Olivia is rich, but is supposedly running a magazine. Yet, she just packs up and heads to Tennessee. It is a long week or more before she realizes she has some work to attend to. Zach resents her money and this is a little problematic for him. But the biggest discomfort comes from the plot line that the press is following them and wants to make more of their relationship than they want. It seems a little unrealistic that the press would be that interested in the daughter of someone who is in the publishing business. On the one hand, the author seems to think this family is like the Kennedys, where everything they do is news. On the other hand, this same family hid from the press the fact that Olivia had a child out of wedlock and is raising him on her own. Incongruities similar to this abound.

The Secret Father is an engaging romance with lots of heart. There are a few distractions, but with a heroine like Olivia and an overall good guy like Zach, it is generally worth the read.

--Shirley Lyons

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