Miss Bates is not a fan of sheikhs, or secret babies (babies yes, but not the secret ones). She loved Graham’s The Billionaire’s Bridal Bargain, the first rom in the series, and wanted to read the second to learn about the heroine’s sister, Chrissie. Lizzie Whitaker, of Bridal Bargain, noticed her university student sister looking sad and stressed in a way she knows is not related to her studies. The reason why is evident in The Sheikh’s Secret Babies; she married Prince Jaul, future king of the Middle Eastern kingdom of Marwan, in haste and repented at leisure, strapped for cash and pregnant. The novel opens four years later with Jaul contemplating marriage to Zaliha, a woman he doesn’t love who will be good for his reign and people. Cue ta-da music … Bandar, his legal advisor, informs him he’s still married to Chrissie. Jaul pegged Chrissie as a “mercenary, hard-hearted” “gold-digger,” after she accepted his father’s five-million-pound bribe to desert him. Little did he know Chrissie was destitute and pregnant in London (after he left for Marwan without her) until Lizzie and Cesare came to her and soon-to-be-born twins rescue. Though Chrissie doesn’t deserve it, Jaul thinks the decent thing to do is go to London, inform Lizzie about their still-married state, and ask for a divorce.
Graham’s rom had an uphill battle and only a Pyrrhic victory. Firstly, with secret babies, the heroine needed to justify her actions; and, secondly, hero and heroine’s broken relationship is based on coincidence and misunderstanding. This creates two problems for Graham’s narrative. The heroine is dishonest and hero, a blackmailer. Ugh. To mitigate their yuck traits, Graham has to make it about something/someone else, not something inherently wrong with hero and heroine. The heroine’s decision to keep the babies a secret and, once revealed, the hero’s compelling her to stay in the marriage and return to Marwan, make them both “badly done Emmas.” Secondly, a huge chunk of the narrative has to be taken up with filling in the backstories leading to their misunderstanding and estrangement. The hero and heroine’s present encounters fade into the background and immediacy is sundered from the narrative.
Hero and heroine have wronged each other and the theme of forgiveness and understanding, as per Lynne Graham, is sympathetic. BUT, when wrong-doing is based on misunderstanding, deus ex machina, and coincidence, the narrative suffers. Card-board villains are implicated in convoluted backstories: the bribing King Lut, Jaul’s father; and an accident preventing Jaul from returning to London. Chrissie’s attempts at contacting Jaul by appealing to the Marwani Embassy were foiled by his father. Jaul, in a wheelchair after his accident unwilling to have Chrissie see him … blah blah blah. All this took away from the fire of Chrissie and Jaul’s relationship … except for their burning attraction and scorching love scenes. Because even though there’s so much crap to clarify, this is an HP, folks, and hero and heroine must burn up the sheets with mind-blowing sex. Ho-hum.
When justifications and clarification in the form of long-winded dialogue move to the background, Chrissie and Jaul come alive. Alas, this is confined to only a few scenes. One of them comes early in the narrative when Jaul and Chrissie reunite after their four-year separation. Miss Bates loved this scene because, like a heroine’s defiant chin, no one does a heroine’s temper better than Graham:
In punishment, she snatched up a sugar bowl and flung it at him, sugar cubes flying like tiny missiles as the china bowl shattered on the edge of a small table. Jaul was right in the middle of the three-act drama he had hoped to avoid.
… ” … don’t you dare ask me why you weren’t told that you were a father when you were such a very lousy husband or non-husband or whatever you were!” Chrissie slung tempestuously.
… “Is that it?” he enquired … “Are you finished hurling abuse?”
“That was not abuse … that was what happened!” Chrissie raved back at him, undaunted. “Do you know what your problem is?”
Jaul knew he was about to find out.
“People don’t stand up to you, don’t expect you to account for the wrong you do because you’re this super rich, powerful guy who’s spoilt. I hate you. I absolutely hate you!” Chrissie shouted at him, punctuating the assurance with the milk jug that had accompanied the sugar bowl. “You’re a horrible, seducing, selfish, womanising rat!”
“I think you should go home and lie down for a while. I’ll phone you later when you’ve calmed down a little,” Jaul murmured without any expression at all and it just made her want to scream …
Miss Bates loves a volatile heroine. The scene is a combination of humour and harsh truth-telling. The contrast between Chrissie’s temper and Jaul’s calm creates the humour, as well as the touch of slap-stick in the sugar-bowl and milk-jug tossing! Jaul, in turn, whose sang-froid is still in place here, will see Chrissie’s truth. It will involve his coming to terms with what his father and grand-father did, not Chrissie, who is innocent of his charges. The second half of the novel is taken up with Jaul’s revelations.
Thematically, Miss Bates loves how Graham’s themes focus on hero and heroine reevaluating, renewing, understanding and, depending on circumstances, reconciling with the older generation. It is as essential to her narrative as the romantic central relationship. In this case, however, the orchestration fell short. Chrissie and Jaul come alive in the above scene; they do so again in Jaul’s grovelling scene, with a lovely internal-to-rom quip in his “You’re not letting me grovel.” Overall, however, The Sheikh’s Secret Babies cannot reach the masterful Italian’s Bridal Bargain. Graham’s themes and sympathetic view of human nature are present, but the “secrets and lies” bases to her narrative make them less convincing. Miss Austen says of The Sheikh’s Secret Babies, “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.
Lynne Graham’s The Sheikh’s Secret Babies is published by Harlequin. It was released on April 21st and is available at your preferred vendor. Miss Bates is grateful to Harlequin for an e-ARC, via Netgalley.