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Santa was good to me, and among other goodies I got a spanking new romance novel (no, not that kind of spanking). Brandon’s Bride: A Family Secrets Novelwas originally published in 1998, as a Silhouette Intimate Moments Romance. At the time, the author wrote as Alicia Scott, but she now uses Lisa Gardner, and is a New York Times best-selling author of crime novels.

Given the writer’s success with crime novels, it’s not surprising that this is a suspense romance. Brandon’s father led a mysterious life and disappeared without a trace decades ago. Brandon became a wealthy wall street banker, but when he started to learn about his father, his wife was killed. Some years later, following the trail of his father and pursued by various demons, Brandon rents a guest cabin from Victoria. Victoria is a single mother with an eight year old son and a drug addicted ex-husband, who ekes out a living running a small farm in a remote Oregon village. Neither Brandon nor Victoria are looking for romance, but they’ve both been on their own for a while and find the idea, and each other, attractive. But both are worried about repeating past mistakes, and someone is trying to kill them.

The set up includes many standard romance elements: a handsome, rugged, and wealthy hero; a lonely struggling woman, and lots of proximity and isolation. There are also less common variations. Both characters are older and wiser, and all the other single mother romances I have read feature cute babies. Brandon is rugged and wealthy, but he’s also scared and scarred by his past. The obstacles to the relationship are not just conflicts between the couple, but Brandon’s internal conflicts, and thus the novel is as much about Brandon’s growth as a person as it is about the growth of the relationship between Brandon and Victoria. With the focus on Brandon, and the suspense plot, there is little room for any development of Victoria. At the end, she is the same strong and capable woman she was at the beginning. I can live with that.

The writing is good, and the plotting and pace are excellent. Brandon is a member of a hotshot fire-fighting crew, and the author provides details about the training and work. Employment details are noticeable by their absence in many romance novels. The action was occasionally melodramatic, and the repeated interruptions to the characters’ trysts went from suspense building to “Oh come on…foiled again? Not fair.” In an opening note, the author apologizes for the amount of sex in this early work, but while the characters have very real and appropriate physical desires, and frequently reflect on them, actual activity is limited and described with a minimum of detail. It’s a fun light read, with enough grit and realism to give it some extra bite.

As the subtitle suggests, this book is part of a series. The other stories involve Brandon’s sister and brother, respectively, and this is the last of the three. I don’t consider a set of three related stories a trilogy, but there is a story arc that spans the three and concludes here. I had no sense of having missed anything, but I still want to read the others because I hope they will be as enjoyable.

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