Christopher Culver, Earl of Cordray, bolts when his domineering aunt Lady Binsted insists on his presence at a family dinner where he is expected to deliver a long-overdue proposal to the lovely, and oh-so-correct Corisande Brant. The two have been intended for each other since childhood, Corisande has been raised to be an exemplary countess, and lately she has begun to make pronouncements regarding their married life. But Cord cannot face marrying Corisande and so chooses to make his escape from London to an obscure estate he inherited in Cambridgeshire.
When he reaches his estate in the dark, he observes a mysterious rider and retrieves a lady’s ornamental comb that has fallen on the path. His inquiries disclose that a retired Cambridge fellow, Sir Henry Folsome, his sister Louisa, and niece Gillian Tate live in a cottage on the estate. He calls upon Sir Henry and his female relations and recognizes that Gillian is indeed the rider he’s seen.
Sir Henry is a dedicated scholar attempting to decipher the secret code, which will permit him to translate the diary of Samuel Pepys. He has made himself such a nuisance around Cambridge, however, that the university has refused him to loan him the volumes any more. As a result, Sir Henry has taken to sneaking the volumes out of the library and back to his cottage. Fearing that this will lead to his arrest, Gillian is secretly returning the volumes in the dark of night.
Cord is immediately attracted to the lovely Gillian and finds her to be an intelligent, entertaining companion on their frequent rides together. The life of dissipation he’d led after he’d sold out from the Army had begun to lose its attraction while he was still in London. He realizes he enjoys the quiet and the company in the country; he gradually begins spending more and more time at the cottage with both her and her uncle.
Gillian fears that Cord is contemplating a dalliance with her. She knows that her social standing is much below his, but she will lose respect for him if that is his intention. Moreover, Gillian has a secret in her past that makes it impossible for her to marry, and Cord has secrets of his own.
By definition a romance novel features a hero and heroine and their relationship. Unless they’re the sole residents of a tropical island, they’re bound to interact with other characters, but the story’s focus should remain on the hero and heroine. From that perspective, Buried Secrets has two principal weaknesses: the older characters, Lady Binsted, Sir Henry, and Aunt Louisa are far more dynamic than the alleged hero and heroine, and the subplot concerning the mystery of Pepys’s secret code overshadows the romance.
Unfortunately, Cord and Gillian don’t come across as vibrant and exciting characters. Gillian’s manner of dealing with her dark secret borders on the melodramatic and slightly self-indulgent. Her reason for coming to live with her aunt and uncle is supposedly because they need assistance in their declining years, but Sir Henry and Aunt Louisa aren’t a pair of frail, feeble senior citizens. The story comes alive whenever they’re in a scene. Lady Binsted is also a dynamic, interesting character. Her motivation is well established -- she’s not trying to run her nephew’s life because she’s controlling but because someone’s got to take charge. Furthermore, there’s something vaguely unheroic about a hero who can’t stand up to his domineering aunt and chooses to run away rather than confront her.
Similarly, the history and mystery surrounding Pepys’s diary imbues the story with an energy that’s sadly lacking in the romance. It’s easy to believe that Cord and Gillian have established a solid friendship and that a marriage between the two will be successful and lasting, but of the three buried secrets of the title -- the secret code in Pepys’s diary, Cord’s secret past, the Gillian’s secret guilt -- Sir Henry’s search for a key to the code generates the most sizzle.
Readers who like an unusual story line based on actual history may want to check out Buried Secrets. Readers who prefer a compelling hero and heroine and for the romance to be the central element in the story may be disappointed.