Prince of the City

 
The Secrets Between Them
by Nikki Benjamin
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1692, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-24692-7
**
What's the big secret between Evan Graham and Hannah James? Sadly, it's that they are both too boring for words. In The Secret Between Them Nikki Benjamin has crafted the two most perfect people on Earth - and the two most uninteresting.

Hannah lives a solitary life with her five-year old son Will. During her husband's illness, she closed herself off from her friends and stopped living her life. A year after his death, she's ready to begin again. She plans on opening a produce stand and selling flowers and vegetables from her garden. But for that, she'll need help.

Enter Evan Graham who masquerades as Hannah's gardener. He seems the perfect candidate: down on his luck, looking to try something new and willing to work for minimum wage. What he doesn't disclose is that he's a private investigator hired by Hannah's former father-in-law, Randall James.

Evan’s job is to prove Hannah's an unfit mother with mental problems and aid James in removing the boy from her home.

But when Evan meets Hannah and Will he realizes he's been duped. James's “shack” turns out to be a nice country house and his “sleazy daughter-in-law” is a model mother who spends all of her time with her son. As Evan works alongside them during his investigation, he finds himself drawn to both mother and child. He feels he must protect them from James, even if it means continuing his charade. But will Hannah ever trust him once she learns his secret?

Secrets and misunderstandings are the cornerstones of this slow moving tale. Evan's questions are answered practically at the beginning of the book, yet he continues his deception. At any point in the first half of the story he could come clean with Hannah without breaking her heart. She's a patient and reasonable person who would understand the situation and be grateful for his honesty. But Evan never sees that. It's frustrating for the reader who can see the inevitable reveal coming a mile away.

The pace of the book is nerve racking. There is hardly any plot development until the last few chapters of the book. Just when you think you may see some action, the author decides to focus on Hannah's soon-to-be thriving business. At times, it is like reading a gardening manual, especially when the heroine educates the hero on the importance of earthworms. I thought perhaps that Benjamin was aiming for a metaphor, the growth of a garden compared to a budding romance. Thankfully, she avoids such heavy-handedness but, without it, the gardening seems superfluous.

The book is decidedly non-sensual. While not expecting hot and heavy love scenes (after all, this is a Special Edition), I do expect a bit of sensuality. Instead, there is a love scene filled with so many adjectives the prose is nearly purple. Intensity is more than just stringing words like hot and slow together. It's building upon sexual tension to get the reader involved. In the end, I didn't care if these characters ever consummated their relationship. And I almost always care.

The basic premise of the book is interesting, but not fully explored. The villain isn't much of a threat, the characters aren't witty or particularly interesting and the back story is pretty much non-existent. It might be worth picking up at your local library, but not worth making a special trip.

--Amanda Waters


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