secret_millionaire_for_the_surrogateDonna Alward’s follow-up to Best Man for the Wedding Planner has a premise worthy of Janice Kay Johnson, especially with a title like Secret Millionaire for the Surrogate. The Surrogate‘s premise is dependent on the first book: if you’d like to read both, then this might be a tad spoilerish, but it can’t be helped. At the end of Planner, when heroine Adele Hawthorne marries the reunited love of her life, Dan Brimicombe, her best friend and business partner, Harper McBride, offers her a gift of unusual, profound proportions – since Adele had a hysterectomy in her youth, Harper will carry a Dan-fertilized-Adele-egg for her. For Adele and Dan, it’s the completion of their dream and the three embark on making this come true. Adele and Dan’s wedding, however, also brings Drew Brimicombe, Dan’s younger brother, into Harper’s life, a man who travels the world, making his freedom and business interests the centres of his life. Nevertheless, “he was warm and funny and put people at ease” and Harper wants to be close to him. Drew, in turn, is blown away by Harper’s generosity, genuinely enjoys her company and is attracted to her. Harper is cautious with her heart, however, and kindly declines his invitation to spend some happy days together amidst the beauty of Banff.

A few months go by and Harper is in the early stages of her surrogate pregnancy. Drew returns to Banff to oversee a possible new store for his successful outdoor gear and clothing business, Aspen Outfitters. He and Harper reunite, in a friendly way, attracted to each other, but remaining cautious, sharing lunch and a few hikes, an ice cream cone, and dinner. Harper is going to see through this profound commitment to Dan and Adele and Drew always has his “wandering feet” … “Settling down wasn’t even on his radar, let alone leaving everything he’d worked for behind.”

Alward can’t write flighty, shallow characters if her life depended upon it: Harper and Drew are deeply drawn, nuanced, and share a thoughtful inner life and profound outer one, centred on the experience of nature’s beauties. But differences divide them. Harper is a woman who yearns for roots and belonging. An abandoned baby with a loving, but peripatetic adopted family, she wants a home and family. Her introvertish ways, lack of confidence in her attractiveness, and a hurtful encounter with a love-em-and-live-em lover left her without many internal resources to take any risks with her heart. Drew, on the other hand, has always stayed away from commitment and attachment, afraid of being tied down and not being able to wander and travel the world as he sees fit.

So, opposites, but with a shared love of nature and the outdoors, a conversational compatibility, and physical attraction: ” ‘ … guess we’re kind of opposite in a lot of ways.’ ‘Except we like the outdoors.’ ‘Except that.’ ” Two decent, thoughtful people, cautious about changing the fulfilling lives they’ve built and averse to risking their hearts. That’s the Alward stamp and why I continue to read her. She really knows how to write real: decent, cautious characters, who are careful about being hurt and equally careful about hurting others. Harper’s decision-making regarding Drew says it all: “She’d never denied that he was attractive or that she was attracted to him. It was more about choosing not to pursue something that would be short term and not, well, meaningful.” Honest with herself, clearly seeing the other, and making a good decision, yes? Absolutely.

But Alward also has the romance-writing wisdom of what the heart yearns for and Harper, while she won’t give up her stand for love and commitment, also won’t deny what she’s feeling:  ” … she wasn’t going to close herself off anymore. She was going to feel, dammit. Feel everything. Even when it hurt.” Alward’s heroines are the ones who more often than not take the emotional risks, but they’re also the ones who don’t compromise on a full and heart-open commitment from the hero. Harper doesn’t wait for Drew: she takes what she can from their short time together, tells him how she feels, and then she lives her life – with her commitment to Dan and Adele and the life she carries for them. (As a side note, Alward handles well the emotional messiness for these three characters: the attachment, gratitude, complexity of what Harper, Adele, and Dan embark on.)

It’s Drew who has to overhaul his emotionally cautious life, it’s Drew who has to realize that his love of adventure and travel doesn’t have to be “given up”, that for love to work, it requires compromise and putting the other person first. If that person loves you, as Harper does, then, you’ll find a way to have what she needs and what you want. The quiet essence of romance, that’s what Alward has consistently written, no less in this her second and better book of the duet. With Miss Austen, we say that Secret Millionaire for the Surrogate offers “real comfort,” Emma.

Donna Alward’s Secret Millionaire for the Surrogate is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on January 1st and may be found at your preferred vendors. I received an e-ARC from Harlequin Books, via Netgalley.