An epidemic is sweeping through the romance genre. The contagion is spreading and secret babies are popping up everywhere. They’re about as ubiquitous as cowboys and lately have been about as interesting. All of which makes an author’s job that much harder, and her choice of this kind of plot that much more problematic. The heroine needs to have a pretty good reason for keeping the baby secret. If she doesn’t, then the author needs to show the consequences of the heroine’s decision and that she has some desire to deal with them.
Which brings us to Angel Mine by Sherryl Woods. She’s taken the secret baby storyline and attached it to a well-liked secondary character from her last book, After Tex. Todd Winston is the executive secretary turned producer who kept Megan O’Rourke’s life organized and running in After Tex. He’s still working for Megan and is just beginning to adjust to his new life in Whispering Wind, Wyoming when he comes face to face, literally, with an unpleasant surprise from his past. That surprise is a three-year-old daughter.
Reader’s weren’t given much backstory for Todd in After Tex. Now we find out that he was living with Heather Reed at the time he started working for Megan. The two of them were struggling actors, and Heather didn’t think Todd should give up his acting dream to become a drone for corporate America. They broke up over his decision, and a few weeks later Heather realized she was pregnant. Here’s where the first hurdle for the author comes in. How does she explain why a pregnant woman doesn’t tell her lover he’s going to be a father, and still make the heroine sympathetic? In this case, she doesn’t.
The two leads in Angel Mine seem to take turns being unlikable throughout the book, with Heather leading the way. The book opens with that frustrated Heather getting fed up with her life as a single mother of a three-year-old. Her solution is to look up Todd Winston, who has no idea that he even has a child. Heather decided not to tell him about the pregnancy because she was sure he would want to do the “right thing!” This didn’t suit her purposes at the time, but now that she’s realized how difficult it is to raise a daughter on her own, she wants him to put his time and money to work on behalf of their daughter.
She knows that he’s still working for Megan O’Rourke, and that he’s relocated to Wyoming, so Heather decides to do the same – at least for long enough to inform Todd of his responsibilities and let him take charge of their daughter Angelica for a little while. Heather knows that Todd will be a little surprised to meet a daughter he didn’t know existed, but she’s sure he’ll want to have a part in Angelica’s life. So she scrapes her last pennies together and heads to Wyoming.
Once in Wyoming, Heather takes a job at the local diner, and Todd is soon made aware of his daughter’s existence. I was finally beginning to warm up to Heather by now, but then Todd started acting like a jerk. This good man for some unknown reason doesn’t want to have a thing to do with his daughter, and he refuses to explain why. Because Heather knows he’s a good person, she decides to be patient an give him time to know Angelica. All this is well and good, but only up to a point. It gets old hearing Todd say, “if you only knew my reasons, you’d never let me near a small child.” How hard would it be for him to just tell Heather his reasons? By the third or fourth time he repeats his warning, I was not only impatient with him, I was losing respect for Heather.
I admire any author who writes characters who suffer from realistic failings. Heather is at times selfish and immature, and Todd has his reasons for not wanting to care for his daughter. Both eventually change and grow. But the chemistry is not there. They had been in love and were supposed to be rediscovering that love, but I didn’t believe it, even though I wanted to believe it. While at times an engrossing read, it is ultimately unsatisfying.
If you’ve read After Tex, you may want to read this sequel – each can stand on its own, but author Woods brings back all of the supporting characters from the first book and wraps up stories left open at its end. Even Flo, the woman who abandoned a child in the previous book, gets a love interest and finds redemption. Some of these endings are a bit tidy, but they’re also satisfying, which might be enough of a reason to read After Tex. You should know, however, that though it has its moments, the behavior of the main characters makes this book a mixed bag.