The Secret Daughter
by Jackie Merritt
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1218, $4.25, PG) ISBN 0-373-24218-2
The Secret Daughter is the concluding story in the trilogy of The Banning Legacy, three books about three sisters. The first two books are A Montana Man (SD1159) and For the Love of Sam (SSE1180). For those of you who enjoy family series, here's another complete set.

When Blythe Benning was nineteen, she did something that she thought was so disgusting, so heinous, so abhorrent, so contemptible, so wrong, (Don't laugh. I could go on with the adjectives for a while) that it's essentially ruined her life. Okay, what is this vile act which has destroyed her life and makes her unfit to be a part of the human race? She gave her child up for adoption. Let me repeat this so you'll know how depraved she is, how disgusting, heinous . . . yadda, yadda, yadda. She gave up her child for adoption.

If you're like me, you're scratching your head and wondering what's so truly terrible about an unwed mother giving up her child for adoption. It's not like she sold it to pygmy head hunters but instead let a reputable agency handle the adoption.

Blythe, now forty-three, has returned to Idaho to settle her late mother's estate. When she opens the door to her real estate agent and an interested buyer for her family home, she's aghast. Brent Morrison, the father of her child, a man she hasn't seen in twenty-four years, is on her doorstep. He'll be in Coeur d'Alene for quite a while and wants to buy a home. He remembers Blythe, his first love, as a woman who mysteriously disappeared from his life. What he doesn't understand is her hostility. Me, either.

He's still interested in her and uses the house as an excuse to see her. Considering that her treatment toward him is abominable, I did wonder about him. Blythe realizes that Brent, a widower who lost his wife and child in a tragic accident, is falling for her again. That's terrible. She's so vile that she's not worthy of his renewed interest, particularly since now he's lost two children. She confesses so that she'll squelch his interest. He couldn't love her; she didn't deserve his love . . . All she deserved from him was derision and worse. He's stunned and angry at her revelation, not so angry about the adoption as the fact that she never trusted him enough in the first place. His is the only plausible reaction in the story.

Blythe is hateful, antagonistic, embittered. In short, she's so unhappy about being forced to give up her child that she's never recovered. She blames herself for allowing her mother to manipulate her into giving up her child. When she confesses the dastardly deed to her sister, she's so melodramatic that the sister assumes that Blythe aborted her child. Blythe's reply is that she could never have done that, although what she did do was probably as bad. Um, tell that to the twenty-three-year-old child.

Even Brent is getting tired of her downtrodden attitude and wonders why she won't let herself be happy. Because I would feel disloyal to my guilt. For your information, I haven't had anything to be happy about. Alrighty, truth time. This statement did me in. I mentally quit. I decided that she was welcome to her black pit of despair.

While Brent appears on the surface to be a genuinely nice guy, I kept wondering why he was being such a doormat. Blythe was alternately sullen, hateful, unresponsive, scoffing and he accepts it placidly. Why? His anger toward her is short-lived and he gets on with his life, making plants to locate their child. Yet two hundred pages into the story, she's still vitriolic and he still calmly accepts her ire. How much disrespect can love take before it snaps like an old rubber band? His old comfortable shoe aura starting getting holes in the bottom.

There's a mystery surrounding their daughter as Blythe and Brent attempt to find her. However, as mysteries go, this one was about as exciting as eating stale donuts. If I figured it out early on, why did it take her years and years to see the connection? It's one of those no-brainer solutions.

A one-heart rating is billed as a "don't bother" message. How I wish I could have had the foresight to know before I started reading this book that it was about a dysfunctional woman, a woman who for twenty-four years has mired herself in guilt, has wallowed in it, has reveled in it and a woman who's rejecting a second chance at love. I resent being dragged into her self-victimization. What surprises me more is that The Secret Daughter made it past the romance police because it's nowhere near what romances should be.

--Linda Mowery

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