Guilty Little Secrets
Based on everything I’ve read about Connie Lane’s previous books, I expected Guilty Little Secrets to be a lightweight, funny book with quirky characters. Instead it turned out to be a fairly heavy romantic suspense novel with solid and extremely serious characters. Ultimately, some elements of the novel work better than others. The suspense portion of the book is fast-reading, absorbing, and exciting. Unfortunately, the romance failed to grab my emotions.
Eleanor Roosevelt Malone (Rosie) is an agent for the ATF who’s currently working undercover as a showgirl in Vegas. Rosie is talking to an informant in an alley when someone tries to run her over with an SUV. Because she’s dressed as a clown, complete with big, clumsy shoes, she can’t quite get out of the way and is rescued by a passerby named Mack. A stripper with secrets of his own, Rosie doesn’t trust Mack and Mack doesn’t trust Rosie, either.
Both the main characters are interesting and well-drawn, although there’s nary a quirk to be seen. Rosie, especially, is a cool character. (To begin with, there’s the name. Did you ever think you’d come across a romance heroine named Eleanor Roosevelt?) Rosie is a tough, kick-ass, take-no-prisoners kind of heroine, and I liked her from the beginning. She’s rebelled against her famous political activist parents, who are tofu-eating, save-the-mine-voles hippies, by becoming deeply conservative in her outlook. Even dressed in a clown costume she’s intimidating.
Mack is an extremely intriguing guy. It’s immediately apparent that he has secrets of his own, although to disclose any of them would constitute spoilers. I was immediately drawn to the book because of his apparent profession – after all, not many books feature male strippers, Lightning that Lingers by Laura London aside. Furthermore, he’s a really good, incredibly sexy stripper who whips the women in his audience into a hormone-drenched lather. He’s not just going through the motions; he has an illicit enthusiasm for what he does, a fact which disturbs him to some extent. Mack is a serious hunk, but he’s also handy in a tight situation since he puts his life on the line for Rosie more than once.
The novel starts off fast and exciting, and I really enjoyed it until page 71, when Mack and Rosie make love for the first time. The public setting for their lovemaking is exotic and interesting, and it should have been an exciting, titillating scene. Instead it was so subtly (or blandly) written that I had to reread it to confirm that they did, in fact, have intercourse. The other trouble is that at this point in the plot there’s no real emotional attachment between them, no real and compelling reason for them to make love. Sure, Mack is a hunka hunka burning love, especially in his stripper costumes, and yes, Rosie has great legs. But they just haven’t gotten that far in their relationship at this point, and Rosie, whose conservatism is played up at every turn, really doesn’t seem the type for casual sex. This forced me to conclude the author had them make love just to complicate the plot.
Another problem is that I never laughed out loud, even though the author did occasionally try to be funny. For example, in one scene Mack and Rosie find themselves handcuffed together on a bus loaded with elderly tourists, all of whom assume, for reasons I won’t go into here, that they’re married. This scene should have been funny, and yet, oddly, it fell flat. Most of the author’s other efforts at humor left me similarly unimpressed.
My big problem with this book, however, is that the romance never really takes off. The suspense plot is intriguing – there is a motorcycle chase that’s incredibly exciting – and our characters are in serious jeopardy for most of the book. The bad guys try to do in our hero and heroine in a number of ways, ranging from the ordinary (shooting at them) to the highly unusual (leaving them to die in the desert heat in a… well, that could be construed as a spoiler, couldn’t it?). I was on the edge of my seat for most of the book, but not because of the romance. In fact, I really didn’t care how the romance turned out, which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement when you’re talking about what is, first and foremost, a romance novel.
I think it’s obvious that I really liked these characters. However, the total lack of trust between them badly undermined the romance for me. Guilty Little Secrets is certainly an apt title since the hero and heroine have so many huge secrets looming between them that it’s a miracle they can bring themselves to converse, let alone have sex. The way the plot is structured, they simply can’t trust each other with the simplest fact, like their real names. It’s hard to believe a genuine emotional bond can grow between two people who can’t trust each other, even a little bit. And even when their secrets were exposed and their cards were on the table, they still didn’t trust one another. As a consequence, I found it difficult to believe in the happy ending that was too abrupt and just didn’t ring true.
Guilty Little Secrets reads almost like a straight suspense novel, with a too-neat HEA ending tacked on. Therefore, whether you enjoy it or not may hinge on the proportions of suspense versus romance you prefer in your novels. It didn’t work for me. The suspense was nail-biting and the characters were likable, but in the end the romance simply wasn’t… romantic.