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Her Secret Affair by Arlene James
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1421, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-24421-5
Her Secret Affair just didn’t hold my interest. Maybe it was the over-the-top hero, implausible suspense thread, or the wimpy heroine who acted like a wishy-washy teenager too much of the time. It’s a shame, because the prose is clean and the style is straightforward, not purple, but the obvious writing talents of the author just couldn’t overcome the story deficiencies.

Chey Simmons is an interior designer who is delighted to have the chance to bid on the renovation of Fair Havens, a rundown, antebellum mansion in New Orleans. She’s all but knocked out by the initial attraction she feels for the owner, Brodie Todd, a single father and millionaire who owns a highly-successful travel company catering to the very wealthy. He wants his home restored and wants the very best. And since he’s already investigated Chey, he knows she’ll do the job. Plus, she has a slender neck, slender legs, and slender feet. This guy is definitely hung up on slender.

Chey and Brodie feel a quick sizzle, but Chey doesn’t want to act on it. She’s thirty years old and not interested in marrying. Plus, she has nine siblings and a huge passel of nieces and nephews, and has no desire for children of her own. Chey wants a career and something more than the traditional marriage-and-motherhood path of her siblings. Brodie, with his three-year-old son, represents everything she’s spent years telling herself she doesn’t want.

Brodie and Chey have a huge impediment to their attraction, anyway. His ex-wife is lying upstairs in a coma. Except for a brief flash of movement when being transferred to Fair Havens a few weeks earlier, she’s been comatose for over two years. Little Seth visits his mother, but Brodie is the only parent he’s really ever known. And Brodie has a few skeletons in his closet about his marriage, too.

Chey fights her attraction to Brodie, but soon they are lovers. Then the ex wakes up, under suspicious circumstances, and soon Chey and Brodie must join forces to prove there’s foul play going on.

Chey was an exasperating heroine. She falls for Brodie. But she doesn’t want kids. And if she marries him, she’ll have to give up her business and be a mother to Seth. She’ll probably be a rotten mother. She wants her career. Oh, for crying out loud - this is a woman who reacts to her emotions rather than using her head and thinking her way through. She so busy telling herself why she can’t be with Brodie that she spares no time to think about how she could make their relationship work, and it didn’t feel as though she deserved to be this guy’s heartthrob.

Brodie is a decent hero, but he’s too rich, too good-looking, and too perfect. I almost got the impression that Chey fell in love with his house as much as the man. Brodie spends most of the book trying to woo Chey, while she tells him over and over it will never work, and runs away on more than one occasion. After a while, the whole story felt like it was spinning madly in one place and moving nowhere.

The ex-wife-in-a-coma thread didn’t work particularly well, either. A few practical details felt overlooked. If a woman woke out of a long-term coma, it seems she’d have to deal with some muscle weakness and instability, at least initially. Not here, and that shoots a gaping hole in the plot. In other words, the only way to learn how to walk around after lying in a coma for two years would be to get up and walk around, and it seems unlikely that someone in the house wouldn’t have picked up on this incongruency. Certainly the reader will.

Her Secret Affair ended up an unsatisfying read. It was too easy to put down, with too many small annoyances that added up. I’d recommend other books by Arlene James on the strength of her prose and style, but this one missed the mark.

--Cathy Sova

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