Hard-Hearted Texan


Promise Me Tomorrow

A Stolen Heart

Swept Away

Secrets of the Heart
by Candace Camp
(Mira, $6.99, PG) ISBN 1-55166-657-X
Secrets of the Heart is a tale that is slow to start, has an intriguing mystery, and requires a major suspension of belief, but if you can buy it, there is entertainment to be found.

Rachel Scarsdale and Michael Trent, the Earl of Westhampton, have been married for seven years. In all that time, they have shared NO intimacy because of one action on Rachelís part just before they were married. They have lived a superficial marriage with Rachel in London and Michael at their country estate most of the year, joining each other only at brief intervals, including Christmas. But Michael desperately loves Rachel, and Rachel has strong feelings for Michael and neither can figure out how to break through these roles they have set for themselves.

What was this one terrible action? Rachel attempted to elope with another man two days before their wedding. She was young, naÔve and believed herself in love with Anthony Birksdale, a landless Mister who had no prospects. Michael caught them before they got far, but the damage was done. Michael agreed to marry Rachel because he loved her and couldnít bear the thought of living without her. He didnít tell her that, though. He told her he would marry her to keep scandal from their names and it would be a marriage in name only. He was not going to force himself on her. His hope was that she would turn to him eventually and they could make this marriage work.

Rachel was so thankful that he agreed not to disgrace her family; she readily agreed to marry him. She didnít think she could stand another man touching her, yet she was intrigued by a brief passionate kiss she and Michael had shared. But neither said anything to the other about their feelings. They went through the motions for seven years.

If you can believe this storyline, you can enjoy the rest of the book. It takes about 150 pages to set up this tale. Neither character was well defined at this point, hence I struggled with whether I could finish this story. I resolved to accept this inane plot and keep reading, and am glad I did.

Rachel is confronted with a story that Michael has a mistress and is in London. When she starts to explore this, she discovers that Michaelís ďloverĒ is really his illegitimate sister, Lilith, who runs a gambling den. She also discovers that Michael has a secret life as an investigator of hard-to-solve crimes for Bow Street. How Rachel finds out, I will leave for you to uncover.

Once this breakthrough occurs, the pace picks up, the characters gain depth and the race is on to solve the mystery. This is an intricate suspense plot that is difficult to describe without giving away secrets, but suffice it to say it involves Rachel, Michael and Anthony, along with Lilith, her lover and other friends. It is well done, building to an exciting conclusion.

Michael gains presence as we are shown his secret life. Initially he appears weak and wimpish. After all, what kind of hero pines for his love for 7 years, when she is his wife and he has every right to take her? I am not into macho alpha males, but in the first section of the story I was praying he would develop some backbone! He redeems himself in the last half of the book, being smart, intuitive and ultimately romantic and sexy.

Rachel transforms herself from a naÔve chit who wallows in her guilt to a woman determined to find her strengths and gain some say in how her life is going. She is impetuous in the last part, but not stupid or incapable of making her choices. And she finally starts to show Michael her clever wit and intelligence.

The rest of the cast is mainly unremarkable, but important to the story. Their actions are relatively predictable and they play traditional roles of the ton. For instance, Rachelís parents do not think at all about her concern over marrying Michael whom she does not love. Their whole life centers on themselves, their reputations and what match she can make to enhance their coffers.

Camp has written an uneven tale that definitely picks up in the last two-thirds of the story. It is the beginning and the far-fetched nature of the plot that resigns it to acceptable status. For those who cannot suspend their belief, Secrets of the Heart may well sink lower than that.

--Shirley Lyons

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