Despite being a famous psychologist who specializes in grief counseling, Emma Townsend still struggles with the sudden loss of her husband a year earlier. She's been putting off going through his things, instead spending most of her time on the road doing a book tour. When her best friend stages an intervention of sorts, Emma can no longer avoid the inevitable. While sorting through her husband's belongings, she runs across one of her own high school year books, and in doing so, discovers a love letter that was written to her by Christopher, a dear friend with whom she'd lost touch over the years. Before that moment, she'd been unaware of the letter's existence, and she had no idea he'd felt that way about her. Feeling badly for leaving him hanging all these years, she looks him up to apologize. When they finally reconnect, sparks fly, but their burgeoning new love could be derailed by a killer.
Chemistry professor Christopher Walker fell in love with Emma as a teenager, but when she never responded to the love letter he wrote her, he assumed she didn't feel the same way. He went on to marry another woman, and although he tried to make his marriage work, it ended in divorce. Now he's a single parent to a young daughter. He's also currently working on an innovative new way to test soil samples. When he receives a call from a private investigator, saying that Emma wants to see him, Christopher wonders what she might want after all these years. When he finally sees her again, all the feelings he thought he'd put to rest come flooding back, making him realize he's never really stopped loving her. But just a few days before Emma's arrival, Christopher found one of his grad students murdered, and he can't figure out why anyone would kill over a bunch of dirt samples. As the killer starts picking off more of his students, can Christopher help the police figure out what's really going on before Emma and his daughter become the next victims?
Dirty Secrets is the shortest story I've read by Karen Rose, who usually tends to write pretty chunky romantic suspense books. Since she's only authored a couple of novellas (although this one is on the longer end of the novella word count), I was wondering how she would handle this shorter format, and as it turns out, the answer to that is extremely well, equally as well as she writes her longer books. This one doesn't have any real ties to the novels that precede it, but according to the author's note at the end of the book, the characters in it will appear in later books. It's the story of two people who were very good friends in high school, but who drifted apart and lost touch over the years. Then while the heroine is cleaning out her dead husband's belongings, she runs across an old high school yearbook in which she finds a love letter written to her by her friend. She'd never read it before and feels badly for leaving him hanging all these years, so she looks him up. They reconnect and fall in love while evading a killer who is murdering his graduate students.
Emma is a psychologist specializing in grief counseling who wrote a best-selling self-help book that propelled her into celebrity status. A year ago, she lost her husband to a senseless act of violence and has been struggling ever since to put his memory to rest. She has mostly stayed on the road, traveling to promote her book, and has been avoiding going home until her best friend forces the issue. Cleaning out her husband's things, she finally begins to find peace. Then she discovers a love letter stuck between the pages of an old yearbook written to her by one of her best friends in high school. Emma had felt a spark pass between them when they'd danced together back then, but when Christopher later became distant, she'd always wondered why. Now reading the note for the first time, she realizes it was probably because she'd never acknowledged his declaration of love. Feeling badly about it, she hires a private investigator to find him to apologize, and when she sees him again, she finds that spark is still there. But someone is killing off his grad students, and Christopher and those he loves could be next. Emma was a great heroine who was very relatable in her grief. Even though it's something she specializes in, it's been hard for her to process. However, when love finds her again, she's willing to open her heart to new possibilities. She's also very accepting of Christoper's daughter, Megan, when the girl is being difficult about Emma and Christoper's burgeoning relationship. Not to mention, she's very strong in dealing with a crisis and with keeping Megan safe when the killer comes calling.
Christopher is a chemistry professor who's working on an innovative new technology for testing soil samples. He's divorced, his wife having left him and their young daughter three years ago to pursue a career out of the country, so he's been a single father ever since. When he receives a call from the private investigator, he wonders what Emma might want after all these years. She comes to St. Petersburg to visit him and they share a lovely date. Seeing her again makes him realize he's never quite gotten over her even after all these years, and he's thrilled to discover that she feels something for him, too. But only a few days before Emma showed up, Christopher had found one of his grad students dead in the lab of an apparent accidental poisoning. However, the young man's death is starting to look more and more like murder, and Christoper can't quite figure out why someone would kill over a bunch of dirt samples. I adored Christopher as the hero. He fearlessly jumps in with both feet when he reconnects with Emma. He's a man who knows what he wants and isn't afraid to go after it, while also respecting Emma's boundaries and giving her time to catch up emotionally. He's also an incredible father to Megan, always there for her as a hands-on dad even while working a demanding job at the university.
Dirty Secrets was an excellent read that I thoroughly enjoyed. The mystery/suspense portion was well-done. There weren't as many red herrings this time, probably due to the shorter nature of the story, which made it a little easier to figure out the mystery as I went along, but that didn't diminish my enjoyment of it. If anything, I thought it was a bit more romantic than some of Karen Rose's longer books. I felt a palpable emotional connection between Christopher and Emma from the moment they see each other again, and the way they came back together after so many years apart was sweet. I also liked that they were clearly relationship people, both having been celibate for an extended period of time since losing their spouses. It made all their kisses and the one love scene very passionate. There wasn't anything at all that I disliked about this novella. It was a perfect read for me with everything I look for in a romance. Dirty Secrets was originally published in the anthology, Hot Pursuit, and was later reprinted as a stand-alone ebook.
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