Nick Ireland has lived a life filled with hard edges that leave little room for softer things. After growing up in a series of orphanages and foster homes, he went into the military and eventually special forces where he earned the nickname "Iceman," and he's willing to anything for his country. He's now a high-level undercover agent for the Department of Homeland Security, hot on the trail of Vassily Worontzoff, a Russian mobster with known terrorist ties. The Russian lives unobtrusively under the guise of his former profession of an award-winning writer in a small Vermont town where he's befriended the local librarian. Now it's Nick's job to get close to her in order to gain intel on Worontzoff. He's seduced women before as part of his job, but this time, the sweet, innocent woman gets under his skin in a way no one else ever has, making him long for a more normal life.
When handsome billionaire Nick Ames blows into town, asking for help researching local investment opportunities, Charity Prewitt is instantly smitten, so when he asks her out, she immediately agrees even though she barely knows the man. Never before has she jumped into bed with someone on a first date, but Nick is simply too much for her to resist. And once she's experienced his seductive love-making, she can't get enough, falling head-over-heels in love with him far sooner than she ever expected she could. But Charity has no idea he's there for another purpose entirely, nor does she realize that the man she knows as a kindly father-figure is really the leader of an organized crime ring. When she finds out the truth, will she be able to forgive Nick for the deception? And if they both get out of the terrorist's crosshairs alive, will Nick ever be able to love her back in the same way she's come to care for him?
I was rather surprised to discover that it's been close to nine years since I read Dangerous Lover, the first book of Lisa Marie Rice's Dangerous series. As such, I don't recall a whole lot about the story, even though I tried to refresh my memory by re-reading my review of that book before starting Dangerous Secrets. To be honest, though, I'm not quite certain why these books are considered a series, as there don't seem to be any real connections between them, at least not that I could discern. Either that, or the connections are so minimal that they don't stand out. In fact, they take place on opposite ends of the country with the first book being set in Washington and the second in Vermont. In any case, these are stand-alone books that IMHO, definitely don't require the reader to have read the previous book to have an understanding of either the characters or the story.
Nick grew up in a series of orphanages and foster homes in which he was cruelly treated, so he learned early how to be tough. As an adult, he went into the Army and eventually advanced to Delta Force, but after being wounded in the line of duty, he left the military to work for the Department of Homeland Security on a special task force that is currently surveilling a known Russian mobster with terrorist ties. Vassily is also a famous writer who is using that persona as his cover in the sleepy little town where he now lives and runs his illegal operation. Nick goes undercover to get close to the local librarian who happens to be a good friend to Vassily, hoping to learn more about him, but in the process, he ends up getting a lot closer to her than he'd intended.
Fans of dominant alpha males will probably like Nick a lot more than I did. I didn't exactly dislike him, but he does have a more demanding, autocratic personality that isn't entirely my cup of tea. I like my heroes to be gentler and exhibit more vulnerabilities, while Nick is essentially the proverbial island unto himself. I thought he was underdeveloped as a character as well. There were so many things about his past that if brought out more would have made him a much more interesting, vibrant, and relatable character, but what I described above is pretty much all we get. I would have liked to have know more about his difficult childhood and how that played into the man that he is today. Also, in his introspection, he goes on ad nauseum for several chapters about his most recent undercover job that he undertook right before this one, in which he had to "service" the sister of a Mexican gangster. The woman was into some hardcore BDSM that he hated participating in, but other than saying how detestable it was to him, we don't get any sense of how that might have affected him from a mental or emotional standpoint. I just felt like there were many missed opportunities like this to deepen his character development.
Charity had some difficulties growing up as well. She lost her parents to a fire, and during that same tragedy, her father threw her from a balcony in a attempt to save her life. He was successful, but she spent months in the hospital and afterward recovering from her injuries. Then when she was about to go off to Europe to study, her elderly aunt was diagnosed with dementia, and since she and her uncle had raised Charity, she gave up her trip to stay and take care of them. Now she splits her time between looking after them and being the only librarian in her little town. Being a lover of literature, she easily befriended Vassily when he came to town and views him as a kindly father-figure. But little does she know that he is obsessed with her, thinking that she is the reincarnation of his long-dead true love. When Nick shows up, Charity believes he is who he says he is, a wealthy businessman doing research on investments in the area. She's instantly attracted to him and doesn't date much, so when he asks her out, she accepts without hesitation.
Charity is the type of heroine I should relate to with her love of books and her ladylike demeanor, but there were still a lot of things about her I didn't entirely get. Much like with Nick, I would have liked to see her past explored more as well. All of the things that happened to her barely get a mention and I never got much sense of how they affect her now or shaped her into the person she is. Then there's her instant knowledge that she's going to sleep with Nick on their first date even though that wasn't her usual MO. I just didn't see what was so dynamic about him that she couldn't resist and was even encouraging him toward that end. Also she falls in love and is willing to marry him within a week's time, which really stretched the bounds of credibility for me. Finally I felt that she was a little too docile, always melting into submission and being completely accepting of whatever Nick told her to do. The only time she really defies him is when she insists on using her connection to Vassily to get into his secret meeting. So ultimately there were some things I liked about Charity, but other times I had a hard time respecting her choices and felt like she was a little too meek and compliant.
Despite my feeling that the characters and their relationship were sorely underdeveloped, I might have still been able to give the book a slightly higher rating, except that things really started breaking down for me in the author's writing style. Normally I'm a fan of rich introspection and descriptive prose, but here it's way overdone, IMHO. There are times that the author interrupts dialogue and/or building tension (whether it be of the sexual variety or suspense) to engage in page upon page of prose, telling what the POV character is thinking. Most of these sections could have been pared down considerably and not lost any crucial information, and it also would have left more room for exploring the character's backstories and building a more dynamic emotional connection between the hero and heroine, as well as between them and the reader. There was just so much of it that left me asking, "Why do we need to know this? Show me something more interesting. Or just get back to the storytelling." There were also a number of things that cropped up that had me raising a brow in skepticism. Eg. Charity starts having frequent bouts of nausea, and when she and Nick realize it's only coming in the mornings, their first reaction is that she's pregnant even though it had only been about a week since they'd had unprotected sex. Of course a two-minute research session of my own confirmed that it's highly unlikely that a woman would experience morning sickness that soon. I probably should have started making note of the other instances so that I could give more examples, but trust me when I say that there were a bunch of little eyebrow raisers just like this peppered throughout the book. One or two I can forgive, but when there are as many as I found, it starts to erode the overall credibility of the story. I also have to admit that most of the major plot points I saw coming from a mile away. There really wasn't much anything that happened that I didn't expect. Lastly, for being categorized by most book sites as erotic romance, there isn't much erotic about it beside a little graphic language. I've read mainstream romances that aren't classified as erotic that are far more sensual and sexy.
Overall, Dangerous Secrets wasn't a bad story per se (I've read more frustrating ones), but it was only OK for me. I would have liked it a whole lot more if the author had paid more attention to the important details, instead of engaging in endless over-explaining of nearly everything. I strongly dislike it when an author feels the need to hold the reader's hand rather than trusting them to read between the lines. I would have liked to see better emotional development for her main characters, a stronger more organic development to Nick and Charity's relationship so that it didn't feel so forced, and a suspense element that really kept me on the edge of my seat and guessing what would happen next rather than one that was kind of ho-hum. With this being the second book by Lisa Marie Rice that hasn't really wowed me, I'm not sure where I'll go from here with her books. I still have several on my TBR pile and I know that many other readers love her, but I'm starting to think that her writing may not be for me. All I can say at this point is, we'll see.
Note: This book is classified by some as erotic romance, and the love scenes do contain some frank language that could be offensive to some readers. But overall, the content of those scenes is more on par with steamy mainstream romance.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook