Sweeter Than Sin
This is book two of the Secrets and Shadows series by Ms. Walker. The series revolves around the small town of Madison, Indiana, an idyllic little burg with some big, nasty secrets. I really liked the couple from book one but had a hard time connecting with this couple and all their secrets. Because their secrets are a part of the big nasty that is going down in town, this book, and as a result this review, contains spoilers for book one.
A few years can be a big age difference when you’re teens. It was for the sake of a few years that Adam Brascum never acted on his attraction for the lovely Lana Rossi. Then just when she was reaching the age when the years wouldn’t matter he got the midnight phone call. She was leaving. She would be in touch. Her disappearance has haunted him ever since.
Lana had just been trying to help when she did something that destroyed several lives forever. She fled Madison, Indiana to live in Chicago and be anonymous, to try to avoid the guilt she feels for the night that everything went to hell. Then she sees the news and realizes that whatever she did wasn’t enough. Madison is still in the grip of evil men. She must return to help set things right.
Once she hits town, stopping at Shakers and appeasing her hunger with a burger and beer while listening to the local chatter seems like her best course of action. But Adam is working the bar and his piercing gaze has her slipping out behind a crowd, anxious not to be recognized.
It was a busy and rather traumatizing night so Adam didn’t connect that the sexy girl with glasses who had caught his attention was actually Lana until he arrived at home. Once he realizes who she is, he sets out to find her. She’s out of cash and bedding down with a sleeping bag in a gazebo when he locates her. Offering her a place to stay seems like the decent thing to do. But will he be able to keep up the charade of decency for long when all he wants to do is find himself buried deep inside her?
The problems with this particular story lay with both the romance and the mystery. In a romantic suspense story those two things are pretty much all you have. As far as the romance, I got that Adam and Lana had wanted each other twenty years ago and didn’t act on that desire because of their respective ages. But I didn’t get that desire rekindling when the two could barely hold an honest conversation with each other. Lana had her secrets and a rather lame reason for keeping them. Adam had been driven to sex and drug addictions by what happened around Lana’s leaving and the tough position she put him in with the phone call. Yet they see each other and boom! The mere sight of each other is reason enough to rekindle the old magic.
Only – and this is an important point, to me at least – they had no old magic. Lana was involved with someone else when she left. All they had was an unspoken desire and a friendship that wasn’t strong enough to overcome trust issues. I couldn’t buy Adam’s easy forgiveness of Lana or his ability to feel the old flame after so many years of silence and pain. Since Lana was more plot point than real character I couldn’t buy anything she did or said so she definitely didn’t work for me as a love interest.
The mystery portion also tumbles primarily because of Lana. She tells Adam both that she can’t remember what happened the night she disappeared and that the secrets aren’t hers to tell anyway. But the secrets of that night actually are primarily hers. The tale of what happened could easily have been disclosed to Adam or Noah without ever naming the name they didn’t know. Mysterious savior would have worked well as a substitute. Also, her reason for staying away with absolutely no contact with her loving father, Adam or Noah is ridiculous. A note sent from a big city as a false trail would have worked pretty well. A phone call from a pay phone saying, “I’m all right. I’m in the kind of trouble you can’t help me with. I love you” would have gone a long way to helping all three men deal with the issue of her disappearance. Telling them the truth would have been a fantastic way to handle things. Instead she disappears for two decades and messes up her own life with drugs. She was seventeen when all this happened, not twelve. A time of panic and desperation makes sense but twenty years does not. What really bothered me was that a phone call to one person would have cleared almost everything up. She didn’t make that call.
The big reveal of a character being someone else should also surprise absolutely no one. I knew who he was in the last book.
What saved the book from being a lower grade is that I did enjoy the portions that dealt with everything that happened that night and that set up the final mystery for book three. I am enthralled with the ongoing mystery of Cronus and what is happening with that. And I think I will really like the heroine in book three; the glimpses we have gotten of her are completely fascinating.
It’s hard to recommend or not recommend a weak middle book in a series. I liked book one and so for me this book was worth the read simply to get the information given and be ready for book three. But as a standalone it doesn’t have a strong enough mystery or romance to be worth the reader’s time.