Brenda Jackson's sixth novel, Secret Love, finally reveals one of the worst-kept secrets among romance readers. Texas rancher and business tycoon Jake Madaris is married to actress Diamond Swain. Although only a handful of Jake and Diamond's closest friends know they're married, Brenda Jackson fans have been in on the secret since the publication of Eternally Yours in 1997. The book and the secret are finally out and I, for one, couldn't be happier. What a way to start the new millennium!
Jake Madaris is the youngest of Felicia Madaris' seven sons. ("Mature" readers are going to love cover model Kendall McCarthy as the salt-and-pepper grey-haired, 40-something Jake.) He is closer in age to his brother Jonathan's sons: doctor Justin, lawyer Clayton and geologist Dexter -- the heroes of Jackson's first three novels.
After graduation from Harvard, Jake took control of the sprawling Whispering Pines ranch which has been in the Madaris family for six generations. Not only has he made a success of the ranch, but he dabbles in the markets and provides sound investment advice for his family and friends.
But Jake returned from Cambridge nearly two decades ago with more than a college degree. He married a Boston socialite who did not understand her new husband's ties to the land or to his family. She tried to convince him to work for her father in a Boston bank. Her attempts to change him and the marriage failed about the same time. Jake hardened his heart against love until Sterling Hamilton introduced him to his frequent co-star, Diamond Swain.
Diamond has been sent to Whispering Pines to regroup after a grueling work schedule and the lingering after effects of a bitter divorce. The sparks fly at Jake and Diamond's first meeting and continue throughout the book.
Secret Love is divided into two parts. The first outlines the couple's meeting and courtship. The second brings readers up-to-date on the current state of the Swain-Madaris union. I'm stingy with details because this book has been anticipated for so long, I'd hate to spoil it. However, here's some Secret Love news you can use: Sterling Hamilton cheats at poker, Nicholas Chenault dresses up in a clown suit, the Madaris men are still protecting the family tea recipe, and the Garwoods still have only six children.
Like Fire and Desire, Secret Love is a busy book. Folks are in and about like Grand Central Station! Jackson has managed to include most of the main characters in her earlier works. The Garwoods, the Hamiltons, the Maxwells and Madarises are all there. Others are afforded a mention. To Jackson's credit, all those characters -- and a handful of new ones -- don't slow down the action. I did find myself getting fuzzy on the time frames because some of the sequences in this book overlap or closely follow One Special Moment and the New Year's Eve story, "Truly Everlasting."
The relationship between Jake and Diamond is sweet, hot and realistic. The sexual tension rises from the pages in this novel. Jake and Diamond are involved in a secret and long-distance marriage. As a result of Diamond's work as an actress, the distances often span a continent or ocean and the time apart is long. The passion evoked during their reunions is overwhelming.
In Fire and Desire, Jackson tried her hand at an action-adventure romance. In Secret Love, she has added a bit of romantic suspense to her repertoire. She's also cranked up her sense of humor a notch. I found myself laughing aloud at several lines and scenes and smiling at others.
While Secret Love is an excellent stand-alone romance, I recommend that those who have never read Brenda Jackson's work, read Eternally Yours first. Eternally Yours is a wonderful primer that gives a great summary of the novels and the short story that preceded it and introduces many of the characters and situations that form the basis for those that follow.
Brenda Jackson is my favorite contemporary romance novelist. The Madarises and their extended family and friends remind me of my own large gregarious family. There's a lot of love, laughter and loyalty. Beyond the personal recollections, she is an excellent storyteller who has created wonderful connecting stories about strong African-American families. The entire series has a prominent place on my keeper shelf.
I've been spoiled. I usually have to wait a year for my Brenda Jackson fix. However, there have been three episodes of the Madaris family saga in a little over six months. The next installment is set for September of 2000.