Dirty Little Secrets
When Dirty Little Secrets first appeared on the list of books available for review, I passed it over for another of Downtown Press’s Bad Girls books, Awaken Me Darkly, a paranormal that sounded right up my alley. That turned out to be a mistake, because the book wasn’t very good. Luckily, I got a second chance with this one, and it was worth the wait. A slick, stylish and very sexy read, it’s pure fun.
Marisela Morales is a bounty hunter who until recently made a living tracking down bail jumpers in her native Tampa. Losing her temper on her last assignment cost her her license to carry a weapon (not that that’s stopped her from doing so), as well as her job. But when she tracks down Francisco Vega in a local hot spot, her mission is personal. Frankie was the love of her youth, a bad boy who ran with a gang and later did some time in prison. It doesn’t look like he’s changed much since then. He blew into town a week ago, and within an hour got himself arrested on drug charges. With a court date pending in the morning, she isn’t going to let him skip town, since that would cost his parents the house they put up as collateral for his bail. Frankie’s sexier than ever, and the heat between them hasn’t cooled one bit over the years. It isn’t long before she has him right where she wants him.
But Marisela soon learns there’s more to Frankie’s reappearance in her life and his recent arrest than meets the eye. Out of nowhere, she receives a job offer from Ian Blake, president of the elite investigation firm Titan International. He needs a Latina with her unique skills for a dangerous mission, and the price he offers is most definitely right. It isn’t until after she takes the job that she discovers who recommended her to him: her partner on the mission, Frankie.
I’ve read several of the author’s series books, which she writes under the name Julie Elizabeth Leto. While they were fine, they didn’t make much of an impression on me. That certainly wasn’t the case with this book, which grabbed me from the very beginning and pulled me along all the way through to the end. It’s a fast, exciting read with plenty of great action scenes, strong characters and sizzling sensuality.
This isn’t a romance novel, and readers shouldn’t go into it expecting one. There’s no HEA, and while Frankie is the only man Marisela has sex with, the author shows glimmers of an attraction between her and Ian, clearly setting up a possible love triangle for future books. This is very much a heroine-centered action/suspense tale. That’s a subgenre that certainly hasn’t been lacking for new titles of late, and this is one of the stronger entries I’ve read.
The main selling point of a book like this is its kickass heroine, and Marisela more than lives up to the billing. She’s the best kind of kickass heroine, a woman who’s strong because that’s who she is, and it’s perfectly normal for her to be this tough. There’s no explanation to justify what made her this way, like so many books feel compelled to provide. That doesn’t mean she’s some one-dimensional femme fatale. Leto develops Marisela as a three-dimensional character without taking the easy way out and dropping some sob story on her shoulders. She comes from a stable, two-parent family (amazing!) and is a loving daughter. She’s gutsy and smart-mouthed, but also cares about other people and has real human emotions. The chink in her armor is that she has a weakness for children and no tolerance for those who mistreat them. Yet the author never turns her into some weepy mother hen blubbering over the kiddies. Instead, it just goes to show what a principled, decent human being she is.
Even when Marisela makes a mistake at one point during the mission, it didn’t make me think any less of her. She made the wrong decision, but it wasn’t an unreasonable one. The moment made her seem human without making her come across as stupid. This was most welcome, especially compared to that other Bad Girl book I read, where the heroine came across as overemotional and borderline incompetent at times (i.e. her gun malfunctioned because she didn’t bother to check it beforehand. I couldn’t see Marisela doing something that dumb.)
Frankie is a good match for her, a tough, jaded character capable of going toe to toe with her who also has her back. Both characters’ Latin heritage was refreshing and well done. The supporting characters are well-drawn, with the possible exception of Ian. He displayed a level of arrogance and self-assuredness that didn’t seem justified by his actions. For the most part, I was less impressed by him than I suspected I was supposed to be. There’s no doubt which one of Marisela’s possible love interests I’m rooting for.
The least interesting part of the book is probably the suspense plot itself, which is fairly predictable. In a book like this, it’s obvious that there are going to be twists, and without getting into details, this is the kind of plot where it’s obvious what the twists are going to be. The final revelations are foreseeable early on, which made Titan seem less impressive than it’s supposed to be since it was unable to figure out what most readers will. The way Marisela deals with the situation that arises from the twists is still effective, and the plot still works as an efficient means to introduce these characters and keep the action coming.
Dirty Little Secrets is a book that should thrill the author’s fans and earn her plenty of new ones. Readers who love a great kickass heroine, propulsive action and plenty of steam shouldn’t miss it.