Sandra Brown is well-known for her contemporary novels, but Hidden Fires is an example of one of her attempts at a historical romance novel. The characters, plot, setting, and conflict of the novel are very typical, nothing special or out of the ordinary. Not too complicated, not too sensual, and not too surprising, Hidden Fires is an average romance novel.
The heroine, Lauren Holbrook, daughter of a minister, grew up in the proper society of Clayton, South Carolina. Ben Lockett, a self-made cattle-baron from Texas, meets Lauren while visiting South Carolina, and invites her to become “part of his family” in Texas, secretly hoping to fix her up with his wayward son, Jared. After almost being raped by a “friend” of the family, Lauren decides to move to Texas, thinking she will be a secretary to Ben’s wife, not knowing anything about Ben’s son, Jared.
After arriving in Texas, she discovers that Ben has died and that his wife, Olivia, is an immoral, conniving witch. The hero, Jared Lockett, privately devastated by the death of his father, has supposedly spent the last 10 years of his life sleeping with women, drinking alcohol, and being a cowboy. Jared knew of Ben’s marriage plans, and resents Lauren – while at the same time feeling that odd, but compelling attraction that all bad-boy heroes feel when they meet the gentle-virgin heroine of their future. Lauren and Jared are forced to enter a “marriage of convenience.” Ben did not love Olivia. Instead, he loved Maria Mendez, his true soul-mate, creating an entire illegitimate side of the Lockett family. Maria’s son, Rudy, (Jared’s illegitimate half-brother and best friend) is the most enjoyable character in the story.
Lauren spends time with the Mendezes, and starts to understand Jared’s personality. The ending is fairly strong – there’s lots of action, and lots of people get hurt, but nothing unusual.
Sandra Brown creates an interesting cast of characters, although the evil characters are stronger than the “good” ones, but none stand out in my mind as particularly captivating, including the hero and heroine. Romantic interaction between Jared and Lauren doesn’t happen until over 200 pages into the book. As a result, Brown tries to inject some sexual tension earlier in the story: “She stared as one hypnotized at the bulge between his thighs.” However, “bulging crotch” observations by Lauren seem out of place and unbelievable, since Brown depicts her to be a completely proper and innocent young lady.
I’m not a historical purist, so I can enjoy a book even if the characters’ actions and dialogue seem out-of-place and modern. But occasionally, phrases would pop up that did not seem typical of the 1800s. Additionally, Brown tries to mesh local Mexican flavor and traditions into the story, but I can only read about tortillas “dripping with butter” two or three times. Well-written historical novels usually find a good balance between real historical facts and fictional character interactions.
Hidden Fires is an average romantic read. You won’t be surprised, moved, or disgusted by the story and characters. You won’t learn anything new about Texas history and you won’t be impressed with any scintillating seduction scenes. But you won’t throw the book across the room, either.