Secret Star by Nora Roberts
(Silhouette Intimate Moments #835, $4.25, R) ISBN 0-373-07835-8
*****
It may be hard to believe, but I wouldn't really call myself a Nora Roberts fan. That's mostly because I haven't read much of her work. I know, it's also hard to believe I've managed to avoid reading her work, but somehow, it's true.

So I'm telling you this to try to explain my state of mind when I picked up Secret Star, the third, after Hidden Star and Captive Star, of the Stars of Mithra trilogy. My thoughts went a little something like this: this is a book by Nora Roberts. Nora Roberts, the goddess of romance writing, who has sold millions of copies of hundreds of books, who has won every romance writers' award in existence, who everyone everyone seems to love, who I've never heard one bad thing about.

And somewhere in my cynical mind, I thought what if I don't like this book? And, I will admit, there was a bit of concern there as I thought -- and if I don't like it, do I have the guts to pit my honest opinion against a legion of devoted fans?

Thankfully, I'm off the hook. I don't have to answer that question, because the goddess won me over.

Secret Star is the conclusion of the Mithra series, and it's one heck of a story. The trilogy centers on three long-time friends, Bailey, M.J., and Grace, and the troubles (and true loves) they encounter when Bailey, a gemologist, splits up a group of mysterious blue diamonds between herself and her two friends, to keep them safe. This is Grace's story.

Grace Fontaine is a former centerfold beauty, a wealthy heiress, and a fatally gorgeous woman with a reputation for wild parties and indiscreet affairs. Beneath that surface is a woman few people ever see a strong, intelligent woman with a giving heart and an enormous capacity to love. For the most part, Grace finds it easier to let people, including her own hateful extended family, believe what they want to believe about her the worst.

Seth Buchanan is ready to believe the worst. As the police lieutenant in charge of the diamond case and all its resulting homicides he would rather not get emotionally involved with the "spoiled" heiress. In fact, he'd rather not get emotionally involved with anyone. He's utterly devoted to his work, and besides, being truly emotional about someone means losing some self-control, and Seth really, really likes being under control.

Too bad for him. Grace, to me, was a refreshing heroine. I've about had it with goody-goody, oh-so-sweet heroines, and Grace is definitely not that. True, not all of her "bad girl" reputation is deserved, but she's no blushing virgin, and she's not afraid to be aggressive in going after what she wants. I truly liked that about her.

So despite all his sincere intentions, Seth can't get her out of his mind. And there's something more some connection between them that nags at both of them. Something almost familiar, something like destiny.

I really don't know how Roberts handled this storyline without resorting to the corny, but, well, I guess that's why she gets all the accolades. Putting it simply, she's good. As Seth works to determine the identity of the still-at-large mastermind behind the diamond case, his relationship with Grace grows on a very emotional level which scares him to death. Of course, the relationship grows on a sexual level too, which is almost as much fun for the reader as it is for the hero and heroine!

Seth and Grace didn't quite strike me as "real" people. They were rather larger-than-life, and I really can't imagine myself or anyone I know uttering some of the dialogue in this book. Oddly, that didn't bother me a bit and I usually like my characters very down to earth. But I liked these characters, and I was completely involved with them and caught up in their story. In fact, this book may have given me a new definition of "page-turner." I was hooked at every moment.

Rest assured, all plots points get resolved, and the relationship between Seth and Grace works out with heart-wrenching reader satisfaction. Nothing less than you might have expected from Nora Roberts. I, of course, didn't really know what to expect, but I'm certainly glad I found out.

So now, even though I know how the story ends, I'm going to have to go back and pick up Hidden Star and Captive Star. The glimpses I got of Bailey and Cade, and M.J. and Jack, were irresistible. I just have to know all the details of their stories. And I may just have to call myself a Nora Roberts fan now. I hope my bank account can handle it!

-- Ellen Hestand


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