Dangerous Passions

The Dream

Innocence Undone

Night Secrets

Nothing But Velvet

Perfect Sin

Silk & Steel

The Secret by Kat Martin
(Zebra, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-6798-4
In theory, I thought this book had an interesting premise. In reality, it read like it was assembled on a refrigerator with a set of “stock phrase” magnets.

Kate Rollins is a high-powered, workaholic Los Angeles ad exec whose life changes when she’s critically wounded in a drive-by shooting. After a near death experience (NDE) on the operating table, she realizes she must leave the obnoxious leech she married at 17 and remove David, their 12-year-old juvenile delinquent wannabe, from the evil environs of L.A. I assume the husband is such a hateful slimeball to make it acceptable for Kate to walk away from her marriage without an ounce of emotional baggage and take an adolescent boy away from his father without a qualm.

A few weeks before the shooting, the grandmother she never met died and left Kate a house and a small café at a wide spot in the road called Lost Peak, Montana. Kate finds an old photo and - amazingly enough - it turns out the grandmother was the oddly familiar stranger who appeared in the NDE attempting to deliver a mysterious message. Sight unseen, Kate decides that Lost Peak must be just the bucolic haven of homespun family values she and David need, and off they go.

A couple of months later we find Kate in the café in Lost Peak, using the waitressing skills she honed in college. A handsome and prosperous local rancher comes in for lunch. When Kate sets his plate down, a button on her uniform pops open, treating him to a look at her “size D” chest. Instantly, his palms “itch to cup her breasts” and he gets an erection. Meet Chance McLain, our hero, unrepentant Neanderthal with itchy palm disease.

His powerful attraction to Kate’s breasts is a real puzzler for Chance until he recalls that the internationally famous cover model who wants to marry him has been away on assignment for three months, so it’s been a while since he’s had any. On top of that, Kate seems tense so he thinks a little recreational sex would be just the ticket for both of them.

And somehow I remain uncharmed.

There’s a bunch of other stuff from the cliché handbook. A sleazy tabloid reporter hounds Kate and David for the juicy details about her trip to The Other Side. The community is trying to stop a corrupt mining company from destroying the environment around Lost Peak and Kate leaps in, bringing the impressive range of her marketing and communications skills to bear. David hates Montana and gets into trouble. Convinced that her grandmother was murdered, Kate is determined to solve the mystery and bring the culprit to justice.

As a result, poor Kate “wasn’t sure which she should worry about the most: Chet Munson and the National Monitor, the mystery that still plagued her, or the continuing problems with her son.” Given that she moved all the way here on her son’s account, I’d have thought this was a no-brainer, but Kate obviously hasn’t quite cast off the over-achiever mantle.

There are lots of secondary characters, all shameless stereotypes, from the Evil Industrialist and his Vicious Thug to the Folksy Townspeople and Noble Native Americans. Everybody’s got lots to do, perhaps to disguise the fact that the mammary-fixated Chance and the busy Kate are so shallow. I’m guessing the NDE is supposed to prove Kate’s spiritual complexity, but it doesn’t work because the rest of her life is devoid of introspection. The I mustn’t, I shouldn’t, I want to, I have to dithers about her attraction to Chance don’t count - every one of them reads like an item being ticked off a checklist somewhere.

Around the middle of the book the whole thing settles into a fairly harmless level of predictability that is maintained to the end (except for Chance’s sophomoric breast obsession, which just never stops being offensive). What with the murder mystery and the eco-vandals and turning the son onto the path of good there are developments and setbacks and discoveries aplenty for the characters - there are just no surprises for the reader. Not Ms. Martin’s finest hour.

--Judi McKee

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