His Secret Son by Brenda Jackson

His Secret Son by Brenda JacksonTo start out, the title is a misnomer as Bristol made no attempt to keep Laramie (called Coop) from his son, but rather was informed Coop had died. It’s not a new twist, but the author manages to make it more complicated than the traditional one by having Coop lost on a classified SEAL mission that no one was supposed to know about. She shouldn’t have been able to get that information, but contacts through her best friend, and the fact that she carried his child, made it happen.

All this is backstory, but crucial to understanding the push and pull of the story’s present when Bristol, now a successful artist in New York City with a two-year-old son, faints at the sight of a dead man. Coop felt no need to celebrate the holidays. His parents, while nice people, were far more interested in each other than they’d ever been in him (a sad fact, but one consistent with his childhood events). His boss sends him on a vital SEAL mission to New York, a task which turns out to be an attempt to get Coop to take some time off, something he’s resisted since just after recovering enough to rejoin his team, many months after they rescued him from where he’d been held captive and tortured while thought to be dead.

He’d planned to return to the base right up until the moment he noticed a gallery opening for an artist named Bristol, a rare enough name to give him pause. As soon as he recovered, he tried to find her in Paris, where they’d first met and acted on an instant attraction for a three-day pleasure fest ending in the deployment where he was captured, but failed. It’s a bit of a shuffle as he learns she’s claimed they were married, and she tells him of the son he didn’t know he had, but that’s only the beginning of the story.

This is a true Christmas miracle as Coop bonds with his son and explores the possibility of renewing his connection with Bristol. Bristol, on the other hand, has seen enough of death. First her mother, then her father, and finally her aunt had died, but none of that prepared her for the crushing blow of Coop’s death as it was reported to her. She refuses to go through that pain again even knowing the love she gained in those three short days has never died.

I enjoyed the story, a lovely second chances with what felt like real complications. The contradiction between Bristol savoring the few short years she had with her father while denying herself the opportunity of even that with Coop makes the story feel more real rather than less because it’s a very human reaction.

The detailing of their sexual chemistry every time they look at each other feels a little overdone at times as does the frequent mention and establishment of everyone involved as wealthy for one reason or another…usually inherited. It’s good that Coop and Bristol can both support themselves so have the ability to be independent, but the emphasis on wealth weakened the story for me a tiny bit. They became less “everyman” when the story would have been perfectly good with just his SEAL salary and the earnings from her paintings. Though I have to admit I enjoyed the connection where Coop had met her famous father as a teen and his mother loved her father’s artwork. Still, those were small flaws in an otherwise compelling tale.

The sex is well written and not very detailed despite still being explicit. The relationships with Laramie (their son), Bristol’s friends, and Coop’s SEAL teammates were all nicely done, and again, realistic in that everything wasn’t perfect. Bristol’s manager especially did a good job of annoying Bristol with her matchmaking and dismissal of Coop…though she had some cause because he appeared to have abandoned them when none of her New York friends knew the true story. Only her best friend in Paris did. Even Coop’s relationship with his parents is important because, like Bristol, it informs how he looks at love and commitment.

This is a love at first sight story, but it doesn’t stop, or even start, there. Neither admits to the emotion until that instant attraction has grown through spending time with each other and sharing their son. At first, it felt more like lust than love, but I could see the deeper emotions developing along with the physical. Coop and Bristol might have been slow to learn each other’s life histories, but they seemed to have a firm grasp on who they are, both in their own sense of self and recognition of each other. Young Laramie was a delight, and the whole story worked because what kept his parents apart felt real. That Bristol was Coop’s touchstone during his captivity is lovely, but I appreciate how the author chose to go light on the details in favor of focusing on how he survived. Similarly, the tragedy in Bristol’s past is overshadowed by the joy she found in the good times.

The story might have gone a little over the top at times, but it offers strong, decent people I could feel for and situations I enjoyed, fulfilling the reasons I read romance novels quite well.

P.S. I received this ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

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