The Black Sheep’s Baby is part of Creighton’s “Into the Heartland” series. I gather from the references to other characters that this is an inter-generational series and that the hero of the current release, Eric Lanagan, is the son of characters from the earlier books. I assume that the circumstances that turned him into a “black sheep” were delineated in a previous story.
This tale begins with Eric driving down the interstate towards his parent’s home in Iowa. The prologue also introduces us to Los Angeles lawyer, Devon O’Rourke, who wakes dreaming of her dead sister Susan’s pleading for help. She begins to pack her bags for her trip to Iowa.
What is bringing Eric and Devon together is five-week old Emily, Devon’s sister’s daughter. Eric, a photojournalist, had been on assignment from an LA paper to do a story about runaway teens when he met nineteen year old Susan O’Rourke. He took Susan under his wing and learned her tragic story. Abused by her prosperous father and unable to get help, she had fled home at fourteen and lived on the streets with all its terrors. When it became clear that she would not survive the birth, she asked Eric if she could name him as Emily’s father. She made him promise that he would never allow Emily into the custody of her father.
The O’Rourkes had learned of Susan’s death and Emily’s birth. They had sued for custody and a judge had ordered Eric to take a DNA test to determine his parentage. Rather than submit, Eric had fled the state and headed for home. Devon, guilty over having somehow failed Susan, is determined to protect her infant daughter from someone she believes is incapable of giving Emily the life she deserves.
The two meet up at the Lanagan family homestead in the middle of a blizzard and with Christmas coming on. Lucy Lanagan has been missing her son and hoping that he will be home for Christmas. She is understandably delighted when he turns up and even more pleased when he presents her with Emily, the grandchild she has dreamed of.
When Devon appears, stranded in the snow, Lucy welcomes her as well. When she learns that the lawyer wants to take Emily away from Eric, she decides on a bit of matchmaking. This may not make much sense, but I guess it made sense to Lucy. After all, before long Eric and Devon - antagonists to the core - begin experiencing a seemingly inexplicable attraction to each other.
However attractive he may find Devon, Eric does have a hidden agenda. He is convinced - and Devon’s complete lack of childhood memories supports his belief - that she too was abused by her father. If he can just get her to remember, then he won’t have to worry about the O’Rourkes’ custody suit.
While I am generally a fan of Creighton’s stories, this one didn’t quite work for me. Perhaps my lack of familiarity with the previous books detracted from my enjoyment of The Black Sheep’s Baby. More probably, the romance just didn’t work for me. Devon is clearly a wounded soul. Despite her academic and professional success, she is hiding something terrible from herself. Eric is actually a less well-defined character. Clearly his rejection of family tradition and the family farm was a formative factor in his and his family’s life, but it is not really fully explored. Why the hero and heroine fall in love never quite seems clear, given the circumstances.
I am sure that those who have read and enjoyed Creighton’s “Into the Heartland” series will want to read this next installment. I suggest that other readers may want to think twice.