Judith Arnold has introduced us to two characters who could be our next door neighbors . . . or us. What kept nagging at me is that these characters are so real and their problems seem so insurmountable that a HEA never seemed to be a foregone conclusion, never a given. Those doubts made the ending seem a bit forced, with a contrived, rushed feeling.
Accountant Martha Cooper sees herself as a brown wren -- mousy, predictable
and ordinary. About the only thing that she's done lately that's the least bit
exciting is to quit her dull job to become the accountant for an up-and-coming company owned by charismatic, ex-beach boy type Blake Robey.
Blake Robey is the mastermind behind Blake's Fruit Brews, a successful line of
fruit drinks. The company, based in Cape Cod, is ready to expand into other
markets. Blake is a bit bemused at his success. He's a college dropout who
gives laid-back a new meaning. He's coming to depend on Martha, but hasn't
looked past the facade to notice that there's a cardinal just waiting to be
After Blake and Martha have a discussion about daylight-saving time
and gaining an hour, the story becomes muddied for a time. During the extra
hour between two and . . . two, Martha awakens to find a strange man in her
bedroom. She knows that it must be a dream because she's not afraid. She
has an unforgettable hour with this man, who's almost Blake yet not quite.
As the story progresses, Martha and Blake become lovers. It's perfect for him. He likes Martha yet has no desire to commit to a relationship. He's enjoying his cake and eating it, too. Martha has misgivings and, knowing that her affection for Blake is not returned with any degree of depth, backs off. Her pride won't allow her to continue, knowing that he doesn't care for her. Blake agrees, albeit reluctantly.
They're skittish around each other but the Christmas party finds them in
bed again. When Martha admits her love and yet Blake remains silent, she
knows that their situation is hopeless. The conflict is totally internal,
one that I've often called the daisy syndrome. Will he love me, will he
not? Can he love her, can he not?
Near the end of the book I realized that we basically knew nothing about
Martha and Blake. He hasn't even been in her house, isn't aware of any of
her likes, dislikes, beliefs and worse, hasn't even been curious. Martha
knows a bit more about Blake, but only because she considers herself in
love with him. Actually, they've only been to bed together twice and haven't
even shared any personal knowledge, so accepting that they've fallen in love is a bit unrealistic. Even near the end, Blake is still virtually clueless about Martha and his feelings toward her.
I had a hard time getting past the ‘dream' sequence. If I were to awaken
and sense a stranger was in my bedroom, I can't imagine any reaction other
than fear. While this scene in no way felt like forced seduction or
anything resembling rape, it didn't leave me with a comfortable feeling and
was far from erotic. It was really kind of creepy.
Blake and Martha do have a realistic feel, but they're certainly not fully
fleshed out characters. It seems that they're skirting along the surface,
not delving any deeper. While I liked them, I never felt that they were
really falling in love with each other. Without that feeling, that sense of
commitment, I can't wholeheartedly recommend Her Secret Lover.