Nate McCabe hadn't seen his identical twin brother, Rob, in fifteen years, when a private investigator shows up on his doorstep with news that Rob died three years earlier. The man was sent by Rob's widow, Beth, who need Nate's help. Her young daughter, Mandy, has leukemia and without a bone marrow transplant the little girl is going to die. Despite the years of estrangement, Nate is genuinely saddened by his brother's passing and willing to do whatever he can to help save Mandy's life. When his tissue isn't a match, Beth asks Nate to father a child with her in hopes that the baby will be a match. It's a big step to have a child with a stranger, but for his niece's sake, Nate agrees. As he spends time with Beth and Mandy, he finds it easy to love them both, as well as his unborn child. But when he kisses Beth, he simply can't be certain that she's genuinely seeing him and not the ghost of his long-dead brother, and when Beth is unable to provide absolute reassurances, he fears that a future between them may not be possible.
The Miracle Baby is the third book I've read by Janice Kay Johnson, and I've come to expect that she often delves into some unusual storylines and themes that I don't often see in romance. I like this, because it makes her books interesting and unique. In this one, we have a widow and single mother of a girl who has leukemia. The child's only hope for a cure lies in finding a compatible bone marrow donor, but thus far the search has been fruitless. So she hires a private investigator to locate her dead husband's identical twin brother from whom he'd been estranged for years. He readily agrees to come, but when he isn't a match, she suggests another possible option: having a baby with her. We've all heard the stories in the news of parents who have another baby in an effort to save an older sick child, because siblings have the best chance of matching, and that's what this book is all about. The only difference here is that since the child's biological father is dead, the only person who can create a baby with identical DNA is his twin. This makes for a heartwarming pregnancy story wrapped in the emotional quest to save a child's life. Overall, it was a good story that I enjoyed, but one that wasn't without a few frustrations.
Beth is an incredible mother who would do anything for her child. That she's been able to hold it together with no other family to help out after her husband, Rob, passed away and her daughter became sick shortly thereafter, shows that she's a very strong woman. On top of all that, she's also managed to keep up with the demands of her berry farm and small jam-making business. When the PI finds Nate and he immediately comes to visit, Beth of course has a visceral reaction at seeing him since he looks exactly like her dead husband, but she's a little wary at first, and probably rightfully so, since Rob never disclosed the reason for the estrangement to her. As she sees how caring Nate is and how well he gets along with Mandy, she slowly opens up to him being around, but even after he agrees to father a baby with her, she's reluctant to cede control of anything in their lives. She's been managing fine on her own for three years, and with Nate feeling like she only sees him as a replacement for Rob, she can't fully let him into her heart. I admired Beth for her strength and resilience in the face of so many incredibly difficult obstacles. She always thinks first of her child, and even though the circumstances that lead her to get pregnant again are anything but normal, she loves her new baby equally as much. While I'm sure her obstinacy helped her to survive, I also felt like it got in the way of her budding relationship with Nate sometimes. Although I understood that she herself was questioning whether she was seeing Nate as a stand-in for Rob, she eventually comes to a place where she's certain that's not the case. After that, there were a number of times, I just wanted her to be more open with Nate and tell him that she saw his uniqueness and try to reassure him more, but she didn't until the very end.
Nate hadn't seen his twin brother for fifteen years, so he has no idea that Rob had married and had a daughter. When the PI brings him the news of his brother's death, Nate is surprised to find just how much it hurts even though he's been angry with Rob for so long. He also regrets not ever getting to know Beth and Mandy, so he's more than willing to get tested to see if he can be a bone marrow donor. He feels like it's the least he can do, along with finally becoming acquainted with them. When he doesn't turn out to be a match and Beth makes her proposition, he's stunned. He's always wanted kids, but after a failed marriage, thought that might not happen. Being around Mandy draws out his fatherly instincts and he knows he'd do anything for her, so even though it's an unconventional way to go about it, he agrees. I have to admire Nate for setting aside his animosity toward his brother and stepping up to the plate to help Rob's widow and child. However, he and Rob competed mercilessly in pretty much every area of life, and he feels like Rob won most of the time. In part, because of that, he can't quite let go of the idea that Beth probably only sees Rob when he's around, and his insecurities about this plague their relationship. I correctly predicted the reason for the brothers' estrangement, and I can't say that I blame Nate. What Rob did was a really jerk move that would have upset me, too, although he did seem to mature somewhat and become a better person later in life. That said, though, much like with Beth, there were times when I felt like Nate was stubbornly holding onto the past and unfairly projecting his feelings about it onto Beth. I'm glad that he finally found some peace, but it took a little too long for him to get there for my liking.
I think that lovers of hearth and home type romances will probably enjoy The Miracle Baby. It's an emotional story that tugs on the heartstrings, and I very much liked it for the family interactions between Nate, Beth, and Mandy and later the new baby. Mandy gets some of her own POV scenes, and she's a great kid who acts age-appropriately. She's been through so much in her short life and faces death almost daily, but she's a very strong girl and one of the best child characters I've read in recent history. I also tend to enjoy pregnancy stories so that was a plus, too. However, where I felt the story faltered a bit was in the actual romance. Nate and Beth literally spend the entire story holding each other at arm's length, he because he's afraid she only sees Rob when she's with him and her because of stubborn independence, confusion over her own feelings for a while, and an unwillingness to deal with Nate's insecurities. There were so many times throughout the book that I thought something was finally going to happen between them, but then their internal conflicts would get in the way yet again. This continued right up until the end. They only kiss maybe three or four times in the entire book, share one brief moment of passion that goes nowhere, and have one quickie love scene at the very end of the story that kind of felt like an afterthought. If only there had been just a tad bit less realism and a little more actual romance, this one probably could have gotten keeper status from me. Even still, it may not have reached the heights of perfection, but The Miracle Baby is a nice little story of family bonds and overcoming the pain of the past to live a fuller more peaceful life that makes a good rainy day comfort read.
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