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First Born Son by Muriel Jensen
(Harl. Sup. Rom. #825, $4.25, PG-13)
ISBN 0-373-70825-4
***
First Born Son is book one in the Delancey Brothers trilogy, stories about three brothers who inherit a neglected winery in Oregon, an inheritance from an uncle who has been missing for seven years and is now legally dead. The legacy has come at an opportune time for the brothers, each of whom is experiencing a personal crossroads in his life.

Tate Delancey, the oldest brother at thirty-nine, is a successful architect in Boston. His financial success hasn't saved his marriage, though. As the story begins, Tate's ex-wife and young daughters are moving to Paris. A part of Tate is happy for his daughters, but another part is chagrined at their seeming ease as they leave him behind. The inheritance has come at a great time. Tate is ready for a new beginning.

Tate and his brothers arrive at the winery, not knowing that each of them needs a new start. Middle brother Mike, a hostage negotiator for the police, has had one too many failures, one too many tragedies on his conscience. He wants to open a hotel on some tropical paradise. The youngest, Shea, is a chef who's had the bad luck to have a swindling partner. His restaurant was seized by the bank. All three look at the winery as their lifeline.

The winery is going to be expanded to include a B&B for Mike and a restaurant for Shea. In books two and three, we'll find out about their history and how life at Delancey Vineyards is meeting their expectations. That leaves Tate. He decides to throw himself into restoring the vineyards and overseeing the whole project. But he needs more. He's lonely and misses that personal fulfillment that only a family can give.

Tate doesn't have to look far to see where his destiny lies. Young widow Colette Palmer and her two daughters live on the grounds. Colette's father has kept the vineyards from falling into ruin. After her husband's death, Colette moved in with her dad and is simultaneously resentful of Tate and fearful that he may change her life, a life that is slowly achieving some stability.

First Born Son introduces us to a wide array of characters. Mike and Shea are fleshed out, but their history is kept to a minimum. Each alludes to a failed relationship, which lays the groundwork for their stories. A caretaker at the winery, Rachel is a delightful secondary character. She brings a menagerie of animals, including the fetching Victoria, the kissing llama. Colette's two daughters add depth, poignancy and purpose to the story. Colette's younger daughter is mute and hasn't spoken since the death of her father.

Being a sucker for animals in a story, I was a goner when Colette's daughters give the Delancey brothers three kittens. Sweetness abounds as each kitty gets its name. Tate finds his kitty sleeping in his underwear drawer. So that's how Joe Boxer gets its name.

The humorous camaraderie between the brothers is wonderfully vivid. It's a verbally sanitized relationship to be sure, but the pseudo-caustic joking does make for some lighthearted moments. There's also a 'girlie' piece of furniture which keeps being covertly moved from bedroom to bedroom, its appearance causing a chuckle or two.

Gentleness suffuses this story and imbues it with a Brigadoon feel. There's a mystery surrounding the missing uncle, but it is definitely a to-be-continued mystery. Muriel Jensen always delivers a good story. This is no exception but I felt short changed regarding the relationship. Romance readers are familiar with instant attraction and instant lust. Tate is taken with Colette and her daughters from the get-go, so much so that I kept wondering if it was Colette he was interested in or if anybody in his general proximity who needed him would have sufficed.

Tate is truly a first born son, the caretaker. I wanted to know why he was falling for Colette, what was unique about her, what really attracted him. I never saw the love developing, just his need to care for someone. It's like a wild flower that wasn't here yesterday, but is in full bloom today. Where'd it come from?

I enjoyed First Born Son enough that I'm going to read books two and three. Muriel Jensen is a talented author who consistently delivers an satisfying story. Many of her books are keepers. Yes, I was disappointed in this story but I still consider her one of the top category authors. I've already written myself a reminder to buy book two, Second to None, coming in June.

--Linda Mowery


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