Secret Heir for Christmas
Grade : C

Secret Heir for Christmas is the fourth book in the Devereaux Inc. series, and although there are a number of siblings/cousins/friends from previous books making cameos, I don’t think it’s necessary to have read their books in order to jump into this one. It’s a quick read featuring a couple in their late thirties who both have good reason to want to steer clear of emotional entanglement, but some heavy-handed storytelling, the overly dramatic tone and a pointless third act break-up don’t do it any favours.

Stephan Devereaux-Smith has returned home to Brooklyn after an absence of two years in order to spend some time with his dying uncle, Ace. Ace is the patriarch of the Devereaux family and, until recently, was CEO of Devereaux Inc., a multi-billion dollar corporation and one of the very small number of successful Black-owned businesses in the world. Stephan has always been close to Ace and the thought of losing him is unbearable, but his canny uncle isn’t going to let Stephan mope around just waiting for him to die. He insists Stephan should take some time for himself, time to find joy outside the business and te family, to be “out there, living and experiencing life.” – and then he asks Stephan to plan the traditional Devereaux family Christmas party – one that hasn’t taken place during the two years of Stephan’s absence. Party planning isn’t exactly Stephan’s thing, but he’ll do anything if it makes Ace happy.

Stephan has been living and working in Paris for the past two years in a kind of self-imposed exile, following the death of his older brother, Randall, and it’s clear – well, it’s hammered home several times, really – that Something Awful Happened and Stephan is now burdened with a Terrible Secret that Could Destroy The Family. The only other person to know what that secret is is Ace, but Stephan refuses to allow Ace to set him free of the weight of guilt he bears.

Carter Jiménez was a Hollywood megastar until the death of his wife some five years earlier (she was killed after being chased into traffic by the paparazzi) and he decided that the constant public scrutiny and intrusion that came with fame was no longer something he was prepared to put up with. He’s determined to protect his six-year-old daughter, Nevaeh,from the spotlight and has recently moved back to his Brooklyn to make a more normal life (albeit a very privileged one!) for her and to pursue a different career as the proprietor of The Vault – an exclusive club where the elite can kick back and relax without having to worry about their every move being caught on camera and sold to the tabloids.

Stephan and Carter meet when Nevaeh’s dog gets away from her and manages to run into Stephan’s house just as he’s opened the front door. There’s a definite frisson of attraction zinging between them as they talk for a short while before Stephan retreives the errant pup, and before Carter leaves, he invites Stephan to visit The Vault later that evening. Stephan thinks that spending some time with the gorgeous Carter might be just the distraction he needs.

No stranger to grief himself, Carter tries to tell himself that he’d issued his invitation simply because he’d seen some deeply rooted sadness in Stephan’s dark eyes and wanted to do something nice for him. The fact that he’s strongly attracted to him is secondary; he’s not looking for a relationship (he insists his late wife was ‘it’ for him) and between running his business and caring for his daughter, he doesn’t have time for one anyway.

When Stephan arrives at The Vault later that night, Carter can’t deny that he’s delighted to see him – or that he wouldn’t at all mind taking Stephan up on what he’s clearly offering. But Stephan is so clearly troubled and weary, Carter thinks that perhaps he needs a friend more than he needs sex. Stephan is surprised to find himself opening up to Carter in a way he hasn’t with anyone else, telling him a little about what’s facing his family and about his situation – although he’s careful not to name names or be too specific; he’s learned the hard way not to trust too easily. In the course of their conversation, Stephan tells Carter about the Christmas party, and Carter immediately offers to help with the planning.

The romance between Stephan and Carter is nicely done, and there’s plenty of chemistry and heat between them. Having been in a relationship with someone who then tried to blackmail him has made Stephan naturally cautious about trusting people, the death of Carter’s wife in such an awful way turned his life upside down, and they’re both very family oriented; keeping their loved ones out of harm’s way is their number one priority. But because Stephan has kept his true identity secret from Carter, once he knows Carter’s distaste for being in the public eye and about his determination to avoid it at all costs, he decides that Carter won’t want to be with him once he knows he’s a member of such a prominent – and frequently papped – family. I admit that I found it difficult to believe that Carter wouldn’t have worked out who Stephan was – not least because his best friend is married to one of Stephan’s cousins!

The intimate scenes between Stephan and Carter, where they’re discussing food – for the party and their own likes and dislikes – their deep affinity for Brooklyn and love for their respective families – are lovely, and the sex scenes are well-written. You’ll see the crisis moment coming a mile away; the author doesn’t let things fester, which is good, but the speed with which the resolution follows makes it feel as though the argument was completely unnecessary. I liked the romance, despite it feeling a bit rushed, but there’s some really clunky dialogue and much of the story is so melodramatic that my eyes hurt from the rolling. Carter tells his mother that he can’t imagine loving anyone else the way he loved his late wife – then has to chastise himself for his “foul thoughts” about Stephan (seriously? Being attracted to someone is foul?) a few pages later. Stephan’s mother is a stereotypical Grade-A Bitch – until she has a complete personality transplant near the end, and when The Big Secret is finally revealed, my reaction was ‘is that it?’ I mean, it wasn’t a great thing to find out about someone you were close to, but you’d have thought they were a serial killer from the constant references to it being something that could destroy the family.

I’m pleased to see a slowly increasing number of queer romances in the Harlequin stable, so I’m sorry to say that Secret Heir for Christmas wasn’t the winner I’d hoped for.

Note: This title is also available in a “twofer” with Tempted By the Bollywood Star by Sophia Singh Sasson.

Reviewed by Caz Owens
Grade : C

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : October 25, 2023

Publication Date: 10/2023

Recent Comments …

Caz Owens

I’m a musician, teacher and mother of two gorgeous young women who are without doubt, my finest achievement :)I’ve gravitated away from my first love – historical romance – over the last few years and now read mostly m/m romances in a variety of sub-genres. I’ve found many fantastic new authors to enjoy courtesy of audiobooks - I probably listen to as many books as I read these days – mostly through glomming favourite narrators and following them into different genres.And when I find books I LOVE, I want to shout about them from the (metaphorical) rooftops to help other readers and listeners to discover them, too.
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