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A series by Nora Roberts that follows the trials of three adopted brothers on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, as they struggle with raising their father's final "stray". Cam, Ethan, and Philip Quinn are called home after their father, Ray Quinn, is injured in a car accident. After extracting a promise from them to take care of Seth, a young boy he'd recently adopted, their father dies.
Titles in the series:
This series provides examples of:
Abusive Parents: All of the Quinn brothers have abusive biological parents.
Big Brother Instinct: The Quinns in general, and Cam in particular, especially towards Seth in the early days.
Blackmail: Gloria, Seth's mother, is rather fond of blackmail. She essentially sells Seth to Ray and then blackmails him by threatening to take Seth back if he doesn't pay. After Ray's death, Gloria threatens the Quinn brothers, threatening to take her story to the press (painting herself as a poor, defenseless woman extorted by a well-educated man—Ray) in order to get Seth back. They don't fall for it. It's assumed that Gloria got the message after the third book and disappeared. In Chesapeake Blue however, it's revealed that Gloria was still blackmailing one of the Quinn's—Seth. Starting at age 14, Gloria blackmailed her son for money by threatening Seth's family, including his nieces and nephews. Seth pays her off for well over a decade until the issue is finally resolved at the end of the book.
Children Raise You: Most of the series is Cam, Ethan, and Philip just trying to figure out how to parent Seth.
Defiled Forever: Ethan sees himself this way. Grace disagrees, and Anna brings him around by pointing out that by Ethan's logic so is she, and that Seth wasn't much better off than Ethan himself.
Philip's dad went to jail and never bothered coming back once he made parole.
Seth's father ran off, though probably with good reason considering who he married. He's still an ass for letting Gloria hold onto Seth though.
Cam averts the trope by being a disappeared son, having run away from his abusive father.
Family Relationship Switcheroo: Part of the mystery in the series is just how Seth is related to Ray Quinn; the gossip going around town is that Seth is Ray's son, the result of an affair with one of his university students. The brothers don't really believe that, but cannot reconcile the fact that Seth bears a resemblance to their father. Ray, at this point, is dead and is only giving cryptic information through dreams. Seth has no idea. It's finally revealed that Seth is Ray's grandson; Ray had a relationship before marrying Stella that produced a daughter, though he never knew it. When Gloria found out, she tried to peddle the story that Seth was Ray's son.
Hates Being Touched: Early on, Cam grabs Seth by the shoulders during an argument and Seth freaks out because of incidents in his past . Luckily Cam dealt with Ethan's issues before and lets Seth know that he's safe with him without letting Seth get away with being a brat.
Ethan's mom pimped him out against his will, making him so messed up that he decided to go for a swim off the Quinn's pier without actually knowing how to swim. Luckily his dog distracted him with a game of fetch. And it's also the reason he refused to pursue Grace despite having liked/loved her for years before the series started.
Anna was raped when she was ten by the same guys who killed her mom. This might be the reason she keeps her dates at arms length until Cam. It does help her empathize with Ethan in Rising Tide and convince him to stop being an idiot about Grace.
Seth barely managed to avoid it, though a big emphasis is put on the fact that the near misses were deeply scarring and it would have happened eventually if he'd stayed with his mom. In Chesapeake Blue, Gloria tries to claim she protected him from this, though Seth doesn't believe her. She immediately agrees that she would have started pimping him out eventually.
Shed the Family Name: Some references are made in the series to Seth wanting to drop his last name (De Lauter), as it has bad associations for him—it's the last name of his abusive mother and a father he's never met and doesn't even know the name of. He also desperately wants to be part of the Quinn family. He is soon formally adopted and gets his wish.
Social Services Does Not Exist: Averted in the form of Anna, who honestly is just looking out for Seth. Also played straight in Chesapeake Blue, when Seth acknowledges that he rarely spent time in areas the the police or Social Services took interest in.
Son of a Whore: And not the Hooker with a Heart of Gold type either. Ethan's mom pimped him out, Philip's denied any responsibility for him after he was shot, and Seth's mom spends most of the series blackmailing anyone who cares about him and generally trying to use him to make a quick buck. It's not surprising that Ethan and Philip considered Stella Quinn to be their mother rather than the women that gave birth to them.
Sour Outside, Sad Inside: Seth starts out the series this way. He is incredibly reactive and angry, violent and brash. The first person he connects with is Grace, but he is wary of anyone else. This facade hides his intense fear of rejection by his brothers and being handed back to his abusive and neglectful mother. And since he's also not quite used to unconditional love and care, he doesn't quite know what to do with it.
Tangled Family Tree: Seth is Ray's biological grandson and adopted son. This makes him legally Cam, Ethan and Phillip's brother/nephew. They were father figures to Seth and Seth, Cam, Ethan and Phillip consider each other brothers, but the age gap means they're more like father/uncles.
Also, let's add the fact that Philip marries Seth's biological aunt, his mother's sister.
There Are No Therapists: There are seriously no psychological services at all for any of the Quinn brothers, despite every single one of them having a traumatic history of abuse and neglect. This is especially odd for Seth, who has a social worker involved. Even when the book was published (late 1990's) it was common practice for children with pasts like Seth's—especially given the allusions to sexual abuse—to be referred for therapy by their social workers in short order.
Time Skip: Between Inner Harbor where Seth is eleven and Chesapeake Blue where Seth is fully grown close to twenty years has past.
Trilogy Creep: The first three books are a trilogy released together, Chesapeake Blue released after the rest embodies this trope, especially as it is released and set after the first three.