The Ranger's Secret
Secrets intrigue me; when the conflict in a relationship arises from someone keeping major secrets, as long as there’s a plausible reason, I can go along for the ride. And I’m a sucker for a good secret-unveiling scene. For those reasons, I found myself picking up The Ranger’s Secret.
Chase Jarvis’ secret is a doozy. The world – including the love of his life – believes that he lost his life in Afghanistan. Instead, he is living under a new name and working as a ranger at Yosemite. Unlike many secret-focused stories in which everything seems to build to the big reveal, this story throws the big secret out there right away. The story then focuses on how Chase and his former lover, Annie Bower, handle everything.
At the time Annie learned of Chase’s “death,” she was pregnant with their daughter, now ten. When archeologist Annie visits Yosemite about a possible job, she is involved in an accident and Chase rescues her. He is astounded to find himself face-to-face with his former lover, and even more shocked to learn of his daughter. Once the shock wears off, Chase wants to approach Annie and explain to her what happened. He also wants to get to know his daughter.
And there’s where we find the tension in the story. Annie feels understandably confused and betrayed to learn that Chase allowed her to believe he’d died, and didn’t attempt to contact her for ten years. His reasons for doing this make sense, but even after hearing them and having them confirmed by a third party, Annie still behaves very coldly toward Chase. She also does not like the idea of him having a relationship with their daughter. Her confusion and conflicted feelings are believable under the circumstances, but she does swing between hot and cold a bit much.
Annie isn’t terrible, but she can be a difficult heroine to like. Supposedly, she and Chase once felt very passionately for one another, but, even during the parts of the story intended to be romantic, I just didn’t feel it. She seems lukewarm at best, and I found her character dull much of the time. The fact that she seems unusually out of touch and dowdy for her age contributes to this. Even when she isn’t in “mom mode” (and there are LOTS of kid scenes in this book), she sounds like someone from decades ago rather than a modern woman in her early 30s. She’s a caring mother to her daughter, but the reader does not get to see much of who she is apart from her status as a mother. She would be my contemporary, but I don’t know anyone, childless or not, who speaks the way she does or who would dress as she does – including ensembles with pleated khakis. Annie is supposedly the daughter of successful and prominent parents in San Francisco. However, if the author didn’t repeat this throughout the book, one would never guess it from the way she’s portrayed.
Chase is actually a very likable hero. His backstory is a unique one, and handled well. A few details didn’t entirely ring true to me, but I still found it interesting reading. Though some of the kids in this book are a little too cutesy for me at times (and I’m a reader who doesn’t usually mind kids in a romance), Chase and his daughter have some good scenes together. They seem to bond unrealistically quickly, but their interactions make for fun reading and also serve to heighten the conflict between Chase and Annie.
At the end of the day, I could believe that Chase loved Annie, but her reactions and the blandness of her character made it hard for me to believe in their relationship. A certain chemistry just wasn’t there. The Ranger’s Secret isn’t a painful read by any means, but it is a rather dull one and too ordinary to get a recommendation.