The Secret She Keeps
The Secret She Keeps is the second book in HelenKay Dimon’s new series of romantic suspense novels set on the small, privately owned Whitaker Island, located somewhere off the Washington coast. It’s an entertaining, and intriguing read featuring a couple of appealing protagonists and a well-drawn secondary cast, and although I hadn’t read the previous book, I didn’t feel as though I’d missed anything, so this one works perfectly well as a standalone.
When Connor Rye’s family fell apart after his sister was murdered, it was Connor who picked up the pieces and held the family and their business together; and in doing so, was deprived of the chance to grieve properly. He threw himself into work and learned to wall off his emotions in order to get through each day; and he’s been doing that for so long that it’s become second nature to him. Now, two years later, Connor, who has been working himself so hard that it’s started to affect his health, has been pretty much ordered to take some vacation time by his family. He has borrowed the cabin belonging to his brother Hansen (hero of book one, Her Other Secret) and taken himself off to Whitaker Island for a few weeks.
Maddie Rhine has lived on the island for a couple of years and keeps a low profile. She works as an answering service for the (until recently) one-man police department and other local business, and counts police officer Ben Clifford and hotel owner Sylvia Sussex as friends, but she doesn’t socialise and generally keeps herself to herself. It becomes clear quickly that Maddie is in hiding – but from what or whom isn’t made clear right away – and that something from her past has come back to haunt her.
Maddie makes one hell of an impact – in more ways than one! – on Connor at their first (rather improbable) encounter, and he becomes more and more intrigued by her as he learns bits and pieces of her story. But Maddie has spent so long looking over her shoulder, so long keeping her secrets buried deep – for her own protection and that of others – that refusing to allow anyone to get close has become her default position. Even when she realises she wants to trust Connor with the truth it’s difficult for her to break that conditioning; but she comes to see that Connor’s patience and understanding make her feel safe in a way she’s rarely experienced, and that also that she needs to be upfront with him if she’s to have a chance of keeping him safe, getting her life back and making a future for herself.
The suspense plot in The Secret She Keeps is generally well-paced, although I did have a few issues with the way Maddie’s backstory was revealed. She’s so dead set against allowing anyone to help her that she can’t see that by keeping her secrets, she risks putting others – namely Ben and Connor – in danger. On the one hand, I could completely understand her not wanting to involve others in her problems (this made a lot more sense later in the book once readers become aware that Maddie was in Witness Protection and how she has been trained to look out for herself), but on the other, it was really irritating to watch her reach a point of confession and then retreat, and my frustration on this score did take me out of the story a few times.
The romance between Connor and Maddie is nicely done and the author builds a genuine emotional connection between the pair as well as writing them some nicely steamy scenes. Connor is a terrific hero; sexy, compassionate and protective without being suffocating or overbearing, with a good sense of humour and fun, and I really enjoyed the relationship that developed between him and Ben as well; it was clear they came to respect each other beneath the snark. I found Maddie more difficult to warm to however; she’s clever and intuitive, and she’s been through things that would have broken someone with less gumption, but although I understood her reluctance to reveal her secrets, this disrupted the flow of the story and went on for too long. The identity of the villain is also fairly easy to work out, but I liked the fact that the author didn’t go for the obvious in terms of their reasons for doing what they did.
In spite of my reservations about some aspects of the story, I did enjoy The Secret She Keeps. The author has set up Whitaker Island as something of a safe haven for those who need it, and has peopled it with a group of colourful and engaging characters I wouldn’t mind visiting again, so I’ll probably read the next book in the series.