A Secret for a Secret
Helena Hunting’s All In series of hockey romances continues with A Secret for a Secret, about a one night stand that grows legs and turns into a workplace romance. It’s funny and blessed by Hunting’s sharp writing, but unfortunately, it’s not very original or inhabited by charming characters.
Responsible, strait-laced hockey player Ryan ‘King’ Kingston isn’t normally the kind of guy who picks pretty girls up at bars, but Queenie is special… and he’s kinda drunk, also a rare event in his life. But he has a good excuse! (He just found out that the woman he always thought was his sister is actually his biological mother thanks to a teenage pregnancy. Um.). Queenie and Kingston have a one night stand that involves ripped panties and ends with a chipper note on Kingston’s pillow in the morning, and he doesn’t expect to ever see her again.
Queenie Masterson (what a name!) is a case of arrested development. She has a long history of failing at adulting at the finish line, from dropping out of college in her senior year to living in her rich general manager father’s guesthouse after losing her latest job and failing to find a fresh college course that captivates her. Daddy Jake’s gotten her a job as his PA for the upcoming NHL season – and guess what team Ryan Kingston plays goalie for?
They have relationship drama (Queenie has a secret from her misspent youth, Ryan has just broken up with a long-distance long-term girlfriend, whom his mother adores). They have chemistry. They have lots of hot sex. They have…a way to go before they can finish healing and end up as more than bedmates. Unfortunately, they also have Jake and the team’s non-fraternization policy fixed between them. Will they be able to climb their personal mountains to get together?
Ryan is a nice guy, very calm and steady, and well, aside from his abs, kind of boring. You could pick him up in line at a Dunkin’ Donuts. His favorite TV show is The Big Bang Theory! But the book’s biggest problem is Queenie, who is annoying, judgmental and immature, and has also been extremely fucked up by her own judgmental, hotsy-totsy mom. I know the novel is all about Queenie growing up, but god is she childish. At least she’s unashamed of her own free-flowing sexuality, and finally figures out what her true calling is. Yet I didn’t buy her six-years-later jump into becoming… well, you’ll see.
King and Queenie (and yes, he calls her “my queen” and she calls him “king” and oy!) lack filters and can be as blunt as billy clubs with one another. She is mean about his average taste and his average existence while she’s a hot mess who can barely get out the door in the morning – stones, sweetheart, don’t throw them when you live in a glass house. Within minutes of meeting again, they’re talking about how he skeeted on her stomach during their single (at the time) sexual encounter. The sex is hot, but they’re easily derailed by the disapproval of King’s grandma/mother.
The stuff with Kingston and his sister/mother Hanna is just…awkward (“Should I call you bro-son or sother?” asks Hanna, as the audience moans and anyone dropping in on the series feels as if they’ve adjusted far too easily to the situation). Kingston having a clingy and meddling grandma/mother on top of that makes the whole scene ickier. And speaking of familial situations, I liked the bond between Jake and Queenie, even if it came off as a little bit too in-pocket for comfort, and he folds like a house of cards in regard to the non-fraternization policy and King and Queenie’s relationship.
But there are some nice twists on the usual tropey formula. For once, Our Heroine has an evil, defeating mom (who is just as flighty as Queenie is, apparently). Her ex is remarkably uncharming, and honestly I didn’t understand why she wasted so much time on him in the first place. He sets the tone for the Jerry Springer-like cast of extras that make up the soapy-goofy mélange of background figures, who shout at each other in public about their sexual prowess or lack thereof.
There are some exceptions. We do get to see Stevie, Lainey, RJ, Bishop, Alex and Violet (who named one of their kids Lavender. Again – yes.), the previous heroines and heroes from the series and of the Pucked novels, and their kids. I liked Stevie and Queenie’s friendship as well.
How much you’re going to like A Secret For a Secret will ultimately rest on how charming you find Hunting’s pretty uncharming characters, and how high lies your tolerance for cheese. Some folks will enjoy spending a little time with these ice-loving folks. For others, though, this circus might have one clown car too many.