by Emma Wildes, historical (2010)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-23166-6
His Sinful Secret is the third book in Emma Wildes's new series Notorious Bachelors, but like the previous two books in this series, this one stands alone pretty well. The story is mostly self contained and the characters from previous books play minimal roles in the plot.
Indeed, the structure and the style of this story are both similar to those in the previous book. There are two romances here, one between the designated main couple and another between a major secondary couple, and the author's prose is top notch. The characters are deeper than the average stereotype. But while the previous book leaves me wanting more, this book leaves me cold.
But first, the story. Michael Hepburn is the spy master whose abilities and contacts proved most useful to his friends in the previous two books. Here, it is his turn to get shackled. You see, Michael's brother, the heir to the dukedom, died unexpectedly a while back, and Michael quickly found himself elevated up the social hierarchy as the new Marquess of Longhaven. Before Harry died, the Marquess of Longhaven had been contracted to marry Julianne Sutton. Since Michael is now the Marquess, he is expected to marry Julianne. Since his parents are still grieving over Harry's death and they, especially his mother, have thrown themselves into the wedding preparations, Michael doesn't see why he shouldn't go along, especially since he has no plans of marrying anyone else. However, he wonders how he will keep his spy master job a secret from Julianne. Yes, this is one of those stories where titled gentleman still has the time and the opportunity to get down and dirty with the middle class sods, so suspend your disbelief a bit when it comes to this story.
Meanwhile, Michael's underling and former lover, Antonia, is still in love with Michael, although it is just like the man to be clueless to her feelings. The news of the marriage doesn't go down well with her - to say the least - but another spy, Lawrence, is more than happy to soothe her pain if she'd let him.
The problem with this story is that the author has designed it in such a way that the story does not allow the characters luxury to bare their feelings to each other. Michael, for example, keeps Julianne in the dark for almost the entire story, often using sex to distract her whenever she is sharp enough to ask some questions that can blow his cover. As a result, the relationship between those two lacks intimate moments where the two characters discover why they love the other person. The characters' growth occur pretty much independently of each other - there is very little moment where these two characters learn to trust each other because Michael is not honest with Julianne for way too long. Julianne isn't a stupid heroine, but since she has no reason to suspect that Michael is a spy, she doesn't have any reason to probe into Michael's secrets that deeply.
Antonia is an interesting heroine in that she is a spy who is also far from the virginal and sweet type, but in this story, Michael's wedding turns her into that pathetic wreck of a woman who keeps crying her eyes out over what could have been. I can only sympathize for so long before I wish that someone would just tell this woman to cut the drama out. Repetition is a big problem in this secondary romance between Antonia and Lawrence - for way too long it's Lawrence being used by Antonia for sex as he tries to get into her heart.
The last third or so of the story focuses on the spy subplot which isn't interesting or suspenseful. As a result, the two romances never feel developed enough to be memorable and the suspense subplot doesn't make up for the lack of connection between me and the characters. One romance is built on half-truths for too long, the other romance feels like a rebound train wreck waiting to happen.
His Sinful Secret is a major letdown as a conclusion to this trilogy. Still, two out of three really ain't bad, all things considered. This book isn't something I'd recommend to you, but the series on a whole convinces me that Emma Wildes is certainly an author whose books are worth taking note of.
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