A Legacy of Secrets
With the Harlequin Presents line, you know what to expect: international tycoons, humble Cinderellas, fabulous and exotic settings, and the life of the upper crust. If you are prepared to take all this silliness in stride, you still want decent characterization and plot that makes sense. In A Legacy of Secrets by Carol Marinelli, the first volume in the multi-author Sicily’s Corretti Dynasty, I was disappointed to discover neither.
Ella, an Australian with Sicilian roots who is in her twenties, leaves Australia for Italy because she can’t stand to watch her mother stay with her abusive, alcoholic father any longer. She tries to persuade her mother to come with her, to reunite with her own family, but Gabriella refuses. In Italy Ella lands a job as personal assistant to Santo Corretti, film producer and notorious playboy, and goes on to spend the next few months in hell. She manages to make clear to her employer when he makes a first move that sex with him is not part of her agenda, but otherwise she is at his beck and call 24/7, solving all kinds of professional problems and personal peccadilloes for him. Small wonder she has another job lined up, this time in the movie business, which is her true passion.
The night before the main part of the novel starts, the wedding of Santo’s brother and an heiress is to take place. It’s cancelled at the last moment, however, causing some fights and a huge scandal. Ella is called by Santo at six in the morning to bring his car to the hotel where he’s staying. He is in bad shape, and Ella drives him to the police station and back to the hotel, and then tries to get him to shower and have some breakfast. Santo is most thoroughly upset, as it turns out partly because Ella went behind his back when she applied for that other job, and he breaks down in front of her and opens up a bit. Then he proposes they have sex. You see, Santo feels at that moment that Ella is the only good thing in his life, and so now he wants her. Ella is at first reluctant, but seeing she will be leaving soon anyway, agrees. They spend the day and half of the next together enjoying very hot sex.
But there is no script for afterwards. There is trouble at the movie set, and Santo tells Ella she may not expect to play a larger role in the filming now that she’s slept with him – he is only interested in getting the best professionals. She sees he’s right and apologizes. There are no flowers or jewelry for her, the usual boon for a Santo lover, because usually she – as personal assistant – was the one to order these. And so on.
The problem with this novel is that there is no way these two people can find happiness together in a way that is even remotely plausible. The relationship has failed written all over it. Santo wonders again and again how little he knows the true Ella, the woman outside the role of perfect assistant, but does he ever take the trouble to get to know her? No. Does he talk to her to express his own viewpoint? Hardly ever.
Santo, in the first half of the novel, behaves like the ultimate spoilt brat. Considering the various tasks he has Ella perform for him, one is amazed he still able to tie his own shoes. How anyone can fall for a man so infantile, calling for Mommy whenever he faces the slightest inconvenience, is quite beyond me. Yet when she confronts him with this (in one of the few scenes I liked about the book), all the reaction he can think of is having more hot sex.
Ella must be one of the greatest doormats in the history of romance. She never stands up to Santo while still working for him. Whenever anything goes wrong in their relationship after their first night together, she comes to “realize” it’s her fault and grovels. I’m not kidding you: There are two and a half grovelling scenes for the heroine, and none for the hero. This is because it’s Ella’s fault she doesn’t trust Santo unconditionally without him ever explaining himself or his feelings with a single syllable. It just fits the overall picture that Ella is never even allowed the dignity of a surname.
At the end, Carol Marinelli tries to solve the problem by letting Santo perform a Big Gesture. It came too late for me, does not touch in the least on the true issues the protagonists have with each other, and does not mitigate in the slightest the problems I had with visualizing any sort of happiness for them.
There are short snippets of good writing in this novel (Santo’s actual marriage proposal, much as I dislike him, is sweet). This means I may very well try another novel by this author, if not a Harlequin Presents. But as for A Legacy of Secrets, I can’t recommend it at all.