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One Small Secret
by Meagan McKinney
(Silh. Desire #1222, $3.75, PG) ISBN 0-373-76222-4
**
Multimillionaire Mark Griffin, head of the international Griffin Enterprises, is returning to Natchez, Mississippi, for the first time in nine years. He's there to donate Blackbird Hall to the local historical society. Mark wants to make his stay a quick one. He remembers Honor Shaw, a young woman with whom he had a summer romance, and regrets that she married someone else.

Wait a minute. Heather didn't really marry someone else. Mark is just assuming that because she has a child. She gave birth to their daughter and has raised Lockey as a single mother. When she first learned of her pregnancy, she repeatedly tried to contact him, her efforts in vain. As heir to a large corporation, Mark trained in Zurich and was virtually unreachable. Heather gave up and made a life for herself and her daughter in Natchez.

As the owner of a B&B, Heather suddenly has business aplenty as people arrive for the historic ceremony. When Lockey tells her mom that she's overheard two shady characters threaten to kill Mark, Heather knows that she must overcome her reluctance to see him and warn him of this threat. She still plans on keeping Lockey's paternity a secret.

A mystery thread adds some texture to the story. Mark owns a newly-acquired satellite communications company that's caused him so much trouble that he's planning to give it to the Navy. Heather's information about an assassination plot is just one of many such threats. When Heather and Mark are driven off a road and left for dead, Mark knows that he's got to take this threat more seriously.

If ever a couple had problems communicating, it's these two. Heather keeps making excuses why she doesn't want Mark back in her life. When one problem seems solved, she invents another reason why she can't love him or he can't love her or why he should leave Lockey alone. I did see red when Mark scorned her efforts at locating him. Picture Heather, an eighteen-year-old pregnant woman living in Natchez, and he's suddenly in Zurich. With calls unanswered and letters returned, what else would she think but that she'd been abandoned? And Mark sanctimoniously says, "You should have tried harder." Well, kiss my grits, Bubba.

Mark's attempts at seduction are for the most part heavy-handed and lacking in finesse. Wouldn't your heart go pitter-pat if a man said, "We need to burn out this thing between us." Both characters were brittle with no humor or anything to make them likable or interesting.

Lockey and a secondary character, a local law enforcement officer, offer the most compelling portraits. When secondary characters offer more warmth and interest than do the hero and heroine, a story is likely in trouble.

If you're a new romance reader, then parts of One Small Secret may appeal to you. However, if you're an established reader with a solid foundation, you'll recognize the secret baby theme, the reluctant heroine, the embittered hero and almost everything else about this book. Not only is no new ground broken, but there is a lot of retreads.

--Linda Mowery


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