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Night Secrets by Kat Martin
(St. Martins, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-312-97002-1
Well, the above four heart rating sure comes as a surprise to me! I mean, I started this book, decided it wasn't grabbing me, and read at least two or three books before I finally forced myself to sit down and read the darn thing. And then, once I got past my early problems with the heroine and her actions, I found myself not wanting to put the book down. Hence the rating.

Let me begin with what caused me problems at the start of the story. Brandy (Brianne) Winters is the daughter of a Charleston tavern owner. Her grasping father forces her to work like a slavy in the tavern and put up with the boorish behavior of its patrons. One night, when a particularly nasty customer gives her a really hard time, Captain Marcus Delaine comes to her rescue.

Brandy has known and admired the handsome captain for years. She knows he will never look at a tavern wench; after all, he is also an English earl. Brandy is tired of the constricted life she has been forced to lead and decides to see something of the world by stowing away on Captain Delaine's ship.

Let me say that Brandy's early behavior caused me problems. Her actions seem to verge on stupid and appear to be motivated primarily by the needs of the plot. But she grew on me, perhaps because her previously hidden strengths become more apparent as her relationship with the captain develops. She is brave and intelligent and realistic.

Marcus is a man who already has a powerful mistress: the sea. As a second son, he was free to follow his first love and has built up a prosperous shipping company. Even his inheriting the title upon his brother's unexpected death has not led him to consider giving up the sea.

Having known Brandy (he always calls her Brianne) for years, Marcus has trouble coming to terms with the fact that she is now all woman. He is surprised by his attraction to the lovely stowaway but tries to resist his urge to seduce her. But Brandy has no such inhibitions. She knows what she wants; she also knows that the two can have no future, not merely because of the difference in their status but also because Marcus' devotion to his first mistress will inevitably take primacy over any woman. And so they enjoy an idyllic love affair and then they part.

But fate brings them together again.

Martin based her story on the 1970's song, Brandy which told the sad tale of a tavern maid who loved and lost a sailor. The lure of the sea was too strong. In true romance fashion, Martin has chosen to recast the story so that the sailor realizes that love of the right woman is more important to his happiness. She succeeds in making Marcus a worthy hero even though he abandons his true love for the sea's siren call.

We just know he will make the right choice in the end, not simply because this is a romance novel, but because Brandy has emerged as such a strong heroine that her irresistible lure becomes understandably more powerful.

So I find myself recommending Night Secrets. If I had problems with the beginning, the strong middle and end sucked me in. Brandy finally has the happy ending that the balladeers denied her.

--Jean Mason

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