This is the second Secret Baby! post in our series about tropes in romance literature
by Frances Housden
My first six books were all contemporary romantic-suspense, and any secrets were simply part of the intrigue. A writer has to come up with an excellent reason for the heroine to become pregnant in an era where condoms and birth control methods are freely available. Why, I’d have to lock the hero and heroine away in a French chateau—oops, I already did that in Honeymoon with a Stranger.
Then why, you might ask, have I written four secret baby plots out of the six books in my Chieftain series? I don’t need an excuse—writing books set in 11th-century Scotland chucks birth-control out the window, or arrow-slit if you want to be pedantic—but it’s the reason behind the secret that adds another dimension. Any secret adds tension, makes the characters’ lives difficult—but then if they were easy there would be no story.
Like every other trope a writer uses, this one is there to drive the relationship between the hero and heroine—how you tackle that is what makes the difference. A trope shouldn’t be mistaken for a formula; it is simply a tool. The difference comes from what the writer adds to the trope—her voice—each story individual and born from the writer’s life experiences, the good and the bad.
In The Chieftain’s Curse, when I realised Euan was cursed not to have an heir, a secret baby plot became the logical solution to beat the curse. Having already mentioned that four out the six Chieftain books use the secret baby trope, don’t be fooled into believing they are all the same plot—the baby in The Chieftain’s Curse was actually eleven years old before he appeared on the page.
In contrast to the eleven-year-old Rob, the baby in The Chieftain’s Feud is still in the womb and becomes the catalyst that resolves the feud between two clans. And in Chieftain in the Making, Rob goes through his own struggles to claim his children—twins—and discovers how love can turn to hate because of a near-death experience during the birth. When he wants to legitimize his sons’ birth, and prevent them being stigmatized as bastards the way he had been, he has to fight not only their Norman grandfather but the woman he wants to make his wife.
The secret baby plot in Chieftain’s Rebel—out in March—takes a different route entirely, but this isn’t the place for spoilers. What each plot has in common is the conflict and tension the trope adds to the relationship. In my plots the secret is every bit as important as the baby. For writers and readers more interested in historical drama, Downton Abbey is a fabulous example of the way a secret baby can cause friction and tension within a family and create pathos in ways that touch the heart.
No matter which genre of romance you favour, remember that as romance writers, we are all about the Happily. Ever. After.
Years ago, chance drew them together, and tangled their lives in ways they could never have imagined. This time their destiny lies in their own hands, but it will take courage and strong hearts to see it through to the end.