Simply Scandalous

Simply Sinful

Secret Fantasy by Carly Phillips
(Harl. Tempt. #836, $3.99, R) ISBN: 0-373-25936-0
Secret Fantasy is part of the Fantasies Inc. series. Fantasies Inc. is an exclusive island resort run by Merilee Schaefer-Weston. Merilee lost the love of her life during the Vietnam War and after a loveless second marriage decided that if she had to fulfill the wishes of someone else, she'd rather enjoy doing it. So, her resort is there to cater to the sensual and romantic fantasies of her guests.

Enter Juliette Stanton. A senator’s daughter, she is well known as Chicago’s runaway bride for jilting her politically ambitious fiancé at the altar. Relentlessly hounded by the media, Juliette decides to take up her twin sister’s offer to pay for a week’s vacation in the tropics. What Juliette doesn’t know is that her sister is sending her to Fantasies, Inc. to have her every fantasy come true.

Unbeknownst to Juliette, Doug Houston is that fantasy. A reporter whose career was ruined by a bad lead, he’s determined to get back on top. What better way then to get the real story behind Chicago’s runaway bride? Doug doesn't count on having his own fantasies fulfilled by the lovely Juliette and his original goal gets replaced by a much more emotional one.

The first draw to this story is its refreshingly normal characters. Juliette’s parents have raised their daughters as naturally as possible despite the high profile of a Senator’s life. They are loving and their children return that love. Juliette’s sister Gillian, though the “wild” twin, is genuinely caring toward her sister. That’s right, no evil twin, no abusive father, and no infidelities leading to questionable heritage.

Doug may have had a tough beginning, but his adoptive parents were also kind and stable. In answer to Merilee’s question of whether he believes in happily ever after, Doug replies that he does based on his parents’ forty-year relationship. A hero who believes in love, who isn't a tortured woman hater, saints be praised! The lack of emotional baggage in the hero and heroine makes them instantly likeable and the reader is behind them from the first introduction.

Doug and Juliette’s relationship moves along smoothly. Phillips' does a good job of allowing natural dialogue to move the story forward, so the reader is never bored while getting background information. Though Doug is less than honest with Juliette, it’s forgivable because his motives are honorable. Like Juliette, he’s keeping his secret to protect a beloved parent and he alters his plans once he realizes the damage he could cause. Although one knows the truth about Doug’s identity will come out eventually, the conflict is handled well. The very fact that these characters have a solid background in trust and love gets it over with neatly and without a lot of annoying communication problems.

Only a couple things may cause readers some problems. The idea of Fantasies Inc, while interesting, doesn't seem like it would fly in the real world. Also, one has to wonder how quickly two people could fall in love in just a few days. With such engaging characters though, one is willing to suspend disbelief.

Phillips' writing is tight and well paced. There aren't any extraneous subplots or wasted words to distract the reader from the romance growing between the characters. That, combined with some superbly sensual love scenes, makes Secret Fantasy easy to polish off in one sitting.

--Anne Bulin

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