by Gaelen Foley, historical (2007)
Ballantine, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-345-49668-3
Her Secret Fantasy is pretty much what I've come to expect from Gaelen Foley in her recent books. A heroine who may not be the brightest bulb in the house but she will go down fighting and even play dirty in order to come out on top despite the odds. A hero who is larger-than-life with super-duper sexual prowess and almost superheroic action man antics. A plot that teeters between campy fun and ridiculous overblown histrionics. Sometimes the author loses control of her story, sometimes she holds it together to give a pretty entertaining, if sometimes ridiculous, story. Fortunately for me, Her Secret Fantasy is a pretty fun one.
Lily Balfour realizes upon inheriting the ugly and crumbling Balfour Manor from her late grandfather that her family is really in need of a miracle when it comes to their financial problems. The Manor is not going to repair itself. Lily realizes that the only way she can get the money she needs is by marrying a rich man. She prefers the man to be stupid rather than smart. The reason she hasn't married yet is because, ten years or so ago, fifteen-year old Lily was seduced by a rake and her mother blamed Lily for getting ruined so Lily is now very wary about getting close to men. Balfour Manor is her safe harbor from the scary outside world, so she's now going to step out to the scary world - or London, at least - to get the money needed to maintain the place.
She ends up with what she believes to be a pleasant husband candidate in Edward Lundy, a self-made rich man who could use a blue-blooded wife to help him get fully accepted by the Ton. However, during a party, she is mistaken for his latest paramour by our hero Derek Knight and she even asks him for a kiss. Alas, when Derek and Edward get acquainted and Derek recognizes Lily as the woman he kissed in the garden, things get a little complicated. Things get even more complicated when Edward asks Derek to help him investigate an embezzlement of the fund reserved for the army in India. Derek, you see, is Major who should be shooting at misbehaving Indians for the sake of the motherland when he crossed the wrong superiors and was punished by being sent to London to get more funds released for the army in India. But with someone siphoning the money on the sly, Derek will have to stay in London a little longer to get to the bottom of things.
There are many things about the story that will be more at home in an action hero cartoon and the exaggerated sexual magnetism of Derek makes me laugh, but the story manages to move along - sometimes awkwardly, sometimes not - to the finish line with style. I find this one an entertaining story. Derek and Lily have plenty of credible chemistry. These characters aren't as well-developed as I'd like, especially when these characters start psychoanalyzing the other person as if they are modern day shrinks filling in a guest role on Oprah's talk show. Derek is a womanizing soldier, for example, so I wonder where he learns all those cool psychoanalyzing skills from. Maybe one can say that Derek is just a special person like that, which is why I did mention earlier that this author's hero is sometimes better off viewed as some kind of superhero. Lily starts out like some kind of nitwit, but don't worry, Ms Foley has a plan for this character. She turns out pretty fine in the end. What I like about Lily is that, like many of this author's heroines, she is not afraid to, nor would she hesitate to, get down and dirty to save herself instead of waiting to be saved by the hero.
The last few chapters of this story are easily the weakest as these chapters are nothing more than Derek coming in to use his super magic shrink powers to eliminate one by one each and every one of Lily's insecurities and fears. I don't know whether to laugh or grimace at these chapters because they are so... I don't know, let's just say that the Carebears will be so proud of Derek here.
Well, Her Secret Fantasy is a fun story featuring a hero and a heroine who click very well together. It occasionally dips into cartoonish exaggerations, so it's also a story that is best appreciated when one doesn't take it too seriously. If you approach this book just wanting to be entertained and don't mind the occasional flights of fancy and liberties taken by the author, I think this book will do just fine.
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