2008, European Historical Romance (1850s [Victorian] England)
Avon, $5.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0061336890
If you choose to read Sara Bennett's Her Secret Lover, save yourself some time and start around Chapter 27. Shortly thereafter, the hero and heroine have the conservation that should have taken place long before. Don't worry, everything you really need to know is revealed and you will save yourself the trouble of reading all the contrived miscommunications, willful misunderstandings, misgivings, conclusion jumping, and false assumptions, which even the heroine admits others would find "silly." I cannot contradict her.
Lord Appleby has sent Antoinette Dupre to a remote estate in Devon to make her think more favorably of his suit, for he is in need of her fortune. He has succeeded in ruining her reputation by claiming she is his mistress. She naively fell into his clutches and is now desperate to escape him, but she has a letter that she believes will free her from said clutches. When a highwayman robs her coach, she believes he was sent by Appleby to retrieve the letter and therefore she will not give it up.
Gabriel Langley is playing highwayman to retrieve a (different) letter that he believe will restore his Devon estate, which was handed over to Appleby as a blackmail payment. He believes the villain gave the letter to his mistress for safekeeping, so he decides to steal it from her. When this fails, he decides to seduce it from her, and here is where I have the biggest problem with the novel.
Gabriel's seduction plan is to get Antoinette all hot and bothered and then leave her wanting. He believes this will eventually get her to hand over the letter so she can get some relief. During his first attempt, Antoinette tells him to "stop" twice. In fact, she commands him to stop, but he ignores her and continues on. Even though there was no intercourse, it feels like a rape, as she never verbally consented to his sexual advances. The author plays into the old notion of "she said no, but she really meant yes." He could have stopped when she first said "stop," and it would not have changed the outcome of the story. In fact, he would have left her hot and confused which would have added some depth to each character (and the hero wouldn't be a complete cad). When he had the gall to smirk about her "commands" in the next chapter, he went from cad to jackass, and I nearly dropped the book into a hot tub (accidentally - on purpose), so I would not have to finish it.
There really is no romance between the couple. Both are intent on their own motives and determined to mistrust each other. Every opportunity for full disclosure is ignored by the author who sometimes put such opportunities within a few pages of each other. It did not build tension; it was annoying. Just get it over with, already. The author keeps them apart for so long that the reader doesn't care if they get together or not.
Another big problem with the book is that none of the characters show much ability to actually think. Antoinette, a supposedly well-bred, young Victorian woman, sees nothing wrong in going to Lord Appleby's, (a man who was not a relation or guardian) home without a chaperone. And then she is surprised when there are rumors of an upcoming marriage or sexual transgression on her part. Nor does she know herself. She claims to be practical, but her actions prove otherwise. Gabriel rushes headlong into actions, often without a real plan to follow. He jumps to conclusions that are wrong and adheres to his belief until proven wrong. The man has a clear case of tunnel vision. To be fair, his lack of intelligence seems to be hereditary, as his mother behaves stupidly, too. Even Lord Appleby, who is a pretty nasty villain, makes foolish decisions. His downfall comes about from not disposing of his one dooming secret.
I checked the publication date of this book, to see if perhaps was a reprint from the 1970's. Her Secret Lover could be called an old-fashion romance, but not in a good way - it is far too reminiscent of the bodice-ripper type books that romance authors have been trying to overcome for the past thirty years. In the end, this book is just not worth the bother of reading.
-- Carolyn Esau
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