So far this summer, I've read too many romance novels where the hero and heroine scorch each other at first glance. I mean, we're talking sexual pyromania. And in most cases, the characters don't even like each other while all these physiological disturbances are wreaking havoc on their libidos. Reading Jean Brashear's A Family Secret was a refreshing change of pace for me. I liked that the initial attraction between the heroine and heroine was subtle, and then built up as two lost souls discovered the best in each other.
Maddie Rose Collins, a renowned New York chef, shows up unannounced at Boone Gallagher's ranch in the middle of Texas. Maddie feels rootless and is desperate for a place to call home, since both her parents have died. Out of the blue she gets the opportunity to explore her father's murky past through a strange bequest -- thus her appearance on Boone's doorstep.
Maddie holds a letter from Sam Gallagher, Boone's father, that bequeaths to her the house on his ranch in order to repay a debt Sam owed Maddie's father. She must spend thirty days living in the house, however, before deciding whether to keep it or not. If, after the thirty days, she wants to sell, then she can only sell it to Boone, who inherited the rest of the ranch property. If she doesn't stay at the ranch, then the house goes to the family of Maddie's step-grandfather, who was murdered. Maddie's father, Dalton, was accused of the murder, but Sam reveals in his letter that he knew that Maddie's grandmother, Rose, killed her abusive husband in self-defense. For a number of reasons, Sam never admitted what he knew to anyone, and before he died, he decided to make good on some bad history.
Boone is none too thrilled about Maddie's presence. He never made amends with his bereaved widowed father before his death, but he's also furious that Sam would leave his beloved home to a stranger, a "city gal" with no links to the land. An ex-Navy SEAL, Boone has had enough "city gals" for one lifetime -- his wife Helen, killed in an accident up north, hated the slow-pace of Texas. Boone blames himself for her death, figuring that if they'd moved to the city like she wanted, she wouldn't have gone looking for excitement elsewhere. But Boone has ranching in his blood, and he knows he wouldn't be happier anywhere else in the world.
Not a lot "happens" in A Family Secret. This is a character-driven story, so the plot progresses when Maddie and Boone begin to heal and grow and make discoveries about each other. I really liked these two -- sometimes with tortured characters, it's easy for me to lose sight that they're supposed to be human. I could identify with their feelings, their hurts, and their struggles. Brashear gives Maddie a certain lightness of spirit that makes her less a character to be pitied. And though Boone is far more tortured than Maddie, his reasons for being so cold were clear to me. And when he began to thaw … watch out.
The sexual tension in this book was handled beautifully. As Maddie and Boone get to know each other outside the bedroom, a subtle awareness of each other as potential lovers develops. I really enjoyed this, er, literary foreplay. I knew that when these two finally made love, they wouldn't just be going through the motions -- there were going to be some fireworks.
The only picky thing I have to say about A Family Secret is that I found the whole setup with Sam's letter a little far-fetched. It seemed unbelievable that Boone wouldn't have known about the thirty-day test run before Maddie appeared on his doorstep. Despite this, it's a wonderful, heartwarming story and I easily put aside the improbable beginning. This is Jean Brashear's second book, and as soon as the weather cools down, I'm going out to look for her first book, The Bodyguard's Bride. She's a terrific discovery for me, and I'll be looking forward to her third book, which feature's Boone's long-lost brother, Mitch.