The Secret (A LLB favorite) By Julie Garwood, 1992, Medieval Romance
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN #0-671-74421-6
Second in a series, followed by Ransom

Sensuality: Hot

I think most aspiring historical romance writers would like to be Julie Garwood when they grow up. I know I would. Her stories always give me a smile, a laugh and a tear. I love them all, but my favorite Garwood book has always been The Secret.

This book grabs you from the first page and never lets go, beginning when four year old Judith, an English girl, befriends four year old Frances Catherine a Scots lass, at a border fair. Over the years, they share their deepest secrets. Frances Catherine fears giving birth, and when she becomes pregnant by her Highland husband, Patrick, she sends for Judith. Her husband’s brother, Laird Iain Maitland, is elected to fetch her. Iain believes Judith, being English, won’t honor her promise to Frances Catherine. To his surly surprise, he finds Judith waiting on her doorstep.

Iain immediately decides Judith will be difficult. And she is, but not in the way he expects. She’s polite, stubborn, sweet, tender-hearted, brave and beautiful. He’s used to women cowering at his slightest frown, but Judith stands up to him. He soon finds he can’t even look at her without being torn by desire. Desire for an Englishwoman? Impossible!

Judith also feels attracted to the huge, scowling Scots laird. Despite Iain’s bluster, she sees an intelligent man with a kind heart, an arrogant confidence in his abilities, and a fierce handsomeness that makes her heart pound!

When Iain decides a kiss will get her out of his system, it backfires. He wants her more than ever. Judith wants Iain to kiss her again. Even though they agree nothing can ever come of their attraction, desire and fate keep throwing them together.

For instance, one night Judith is awakened by Iain to assist an expectant mother birth her child – she’s heard from Frances Catherine that Judith won’t be as cruel as the local midwife. After the child is born, Judith cries all over Iain’s plaid and swears she’ll never, never do it again. Iain feels his love for Judith grow with each tear.

After this initial trial by fire, Judith finds she must confront additional fires, including being accused of sorcery by the now-jealous midwife, and assisting in the births of many women in the clan. Throughout Judith’s ordeals, Iain’s respect and love for her grow; he can’t bear the thought of Judith and any other man but him, and decides he will marry her. Iain’s proposal and the marriage ceremony are unlike any you will read; they are Garwood at her best. They are hilarious.

Iain’s responsibilities as laird are something Judith just doesn’t get. Those Scots do some strange things, and for the oddest of reasons! Still, Judith brings a breath of fresh air to the lives of her new Highland family, and the changes she convinces them to make better their lives.

Her suggestions, as they make their way through the clan’s leadership, are, again, Garwood at her best. Through sometimes tortuous logic, she convinces the leadership to change. These scenes are often hilarious and among my favorites. In turn, Iain’s clan becomes very loyal to Judith in ways she’d never expect. Meanwhile, with each display of bravery and thoughtfulness, Iain’s love for Judith continues to grow, and it scares the hell out of him, especially since he thinks he’s figured out her secret. As for Judith, her passion for Iain surprises her, but her past is filled with secrets that make it difficult to fully trust him. Again, in true Garwood fashion, this is handled with loving humor and is delightful to read.

In a romance, as we all know, the course of true love never does run smooth, and, because of the title, we know there’s a whopper of a secret just waiting to ruin the good thing Judith and Iain have going. I won’t give away the secret. Although the reader knows about it early on in the book, Iain doesn’t discover it for quite awhile, and it’s his discovery that could destroy his and Judith’s happiness.

Just when things look most grim, the author changes the tone with the birthing of Frances Catherine’s child. The delivery goes wrong, with the child coming out feet first. “Trust you to do everything backwards, Frances Catherine!” Judith yells. While the humor injected into the situation brings a respite to the unfolding drama of Judith’s secret, she doesn’t know what will become of her, and Iain’s actions and remarks don’t help matters much. The ending is too good to give away; you’ll have to read The Secret to find out!

I love The Secret best out of all of Julie Garwood’s books because this story shows how one woman can stand against prejudices of race, religion, custom and gender to change people’s minds. The relationship between Iain and Judith is always touching, always fresh, even after reading this story for what must be the tenth time! If you’ve never read Julie Garwood’s The Secret, or haven’t read it in a long time, pick it up the first chance you get. Believe me, it’s definitely a keeper.

— Rebecca Vinyard

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