Reviewed by E and Marlene
Madeline and Daphne were once as close as sisters—until a secret tore them apart. Now it might take them to their graves.
They knew his name, the man who tried to brutally attack twelve-year-old Madeline in her grandmother’s hotel. They thought they knew his fate. He wouldn’t be bothering them anymore…ever. Still their lives would never be the same.
Madeline has returned to Washington after her grandmother’s mysterious death. And at the old, abandoned hotel—a place she never wanted to see again—a dying man’s last words convey a warning: the secrets she and Daphne believed buried forever have been discovered.
Now, after almost two decades, Madeline and Daphne will be reunited in friendship and in fear. Unable to trust the local police, Madeline summons Jack Rayner, the hotel chain’s new security expert. Despite the secrets and mysteries that surround him, Jack is the only one she trusts…and wants.
Jack is no good at relationships but he does possess a specific skill set that includes a profoundly intimate understanding of warped and dangerous minds. With the assistance of Jack’s brother, Abe, a high-tech magician, the four of them will form an uneasy alliance against a killer who will stop at nothing to hide the truth….
*blurb from Goodreads
Marlene: I always forget just how much I love Jayne Ann Krentz’ stand-alone romantic suspense books until I read one, and then I wonder how I ever forgot. I love her paranormal futuristic series, where the Arcane Society eventually travels to Harmony, but her stand alone contemporary romantic suspense books are equally awesome. And it’s nice reading something where I don’t need a cheat sheet for who did what to whom three (or thirteen) books ago.
E: I have to agree with Marlene, it has been a while since I read one of her stand-alone romantic suspense books and once I started I was completely sucked in. It was a fully self-contained novel without any outside connections or sequel bait so I was able to completely focus on the story and my attempts to figure out “Who Done It” and why. I also didn’t have any preconceived notions of the characters and what models they would fit.
Marlene: This is one of those stories where the past comes back to haunt pretty much everyone involved in this particular slice of it. There’s also a bit of power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. I haven’t seen a family quite this dysfunctional since I attempted to wade through J.R. Ward’s Bourbon Kings. The powerful family that the heroine runs into is whacked from top to bottom, and none of the apples fell very far from the rotting tree.
E: It was absolutely amazing to see the level and type of corruption. Each new revelation made me blink and wonder if I had missed something along the way. Even when I reread this story I remained surprised by when things happened even though looking back the clues were there. In fact Jack even said in the story that clues come in a fog. I enjoyed the lengths that family was willing to go in their own self-interest while claiming family altruism.
Marlene: This is also a very interesting take on the bodyguard romance trope, and I mean that in a good way. Madeline has just inherited a hotel chain from her recently departed grandmother. She also inherited the security company that her grandmother chose, including its director, owner, and one of its two agents, Jack Rayner. Jack and Madeline throw sparks off of each other from the very beginning, but when Madeline finds herself at a long-neglected property holding the dead body of its caretaker, Jack is the only person she can trust to get to the bottom of everything, even if she has to also entrust him with a family secret she has kept for nearly 20 years.
Once upon a time, when Madeline was just about to enter her teens, a predator targeted her and attempted to rape her. His attempt failed because her best friend and “secret sister” Daphne saw her capture and ran for help – specifically Madeline’s grandmother, Daphne’s mother, and that now deceased caretaker. In a righteous fury, those three killed Madeline’s attacker, buried his body, disposed of his car, and covered up their crime and his.
Why? Madeline and Daphne never knew the truth, only that something the adults found in his hotel room was too dangerous to bring to the local cops. Those cops were bought and paid for by the rich family who lived on their island, and whatever secrets the dead bastard had, possessing them was dangerous.
It still is.
E: I loved the romances in this story. Very atypical bodyguard and client which I really enjoyed. Madeline tried to fire Jack without firing him, when that didn’t work she used him to do a background check on the man she was seeing. His response afterwards was memorable, and really made Madeline decide to use him for the bare minimum but then things turned deadly and the first person she called was Jack. Watching them work together and sometimes against each other while resisting their attraction was a lot of fun. Then the almost “angry” way they stopped resisting was rather impressive. The secondary romance will be discussed later in this review.
Marlene: It’s the people that make this story so interesting. I really liked Madeline, the heroine of the story. We meet her when she is throwing off a charlatan, and she is a kick-ass heroine from beginning to end. Not that she physically kicks ass, but that she is strong and self-sufficient and very intelligent about everything but her own feelings. She was traumatized by the past, and knows it affects her in the present. But she always does what has to be done, both with the business she inherited and with her own safety.
The relationship she develops with Jack is fun to watch because he challenges her so much. On the one hand, she clearly thrives on the challenge. At the same time, he has to expose a lot of old wounds in order to get to the truth about the danger she faces. And the more he digs, the deeper he has to dive into a lot of pasts that should have remained buried – most of them not Madeline’s.
E: Krentz did not disappoint with her characters. I might have glommed several of her old Harlequins under her James name and it was wonderful to see how her writing had matured. The only similarity I noticed was all four of her primary protagonists suffered from emotional damage. Madeline was really strong and didn’t tend to tolerate nonsense. She tried to be honest and upfront even when it didn’t serve her well. Jack was the first person in a long time she couldn’t brush aside. At the same time she never felt dismissed or patronized because she was a woman by Jack. She respected him and received respect in return, even when they were communicating at cross purposes.
Marlene: Jack is kind of a tough nut to crack. We don’t know a lot about him at the beginning, but it is clear very quickly that he is damn good at his job. And that he has a lot of contacts he can call on to get to the bottom of some very nasty stuff. At the same time, he is completely not in touch with his feelings, or even that he has feelings. He seems to have had a crisis of confidence that isn’t justified. He and Madeline challenge each other in ways that they both need.
E: As open and honest as Madeline was Jack was equally closed off except for his few blunt honest moments which tended to set Madeline off. He was determined to keep his contract with Madeline and to provide what was needed but he found himself dealing with some conflicts of interest. First he was attracted to Madeline and didn’t want to be. Second he found himself caring and scared to care because of mistakes judging people earlier. It was really good to see him explain what was happening to Madeline and their next steps instead of just directing. Besides Madeline didn’t let him get away with remaining closed off because he cared too deeply.
Marlene: There is also a secondary romance in this story, and I really loved the way it worked. As the past rises up to attack Madeline, her friend and savior from that terrible night, Daphne, is also in grave danger. Daphne and Madeline bond again instantly, and Daphne also finds herself drawn to Jack’s brother Abe. The shared danger creates a lovely relationship, definitely one less fraught than Jack and Madeline’s, that Daphne and Abe both need.
And Madeline gets a chance to save Daphne this time, and it’s wonderful.
E: Daphne and Madeline’s reunion was so wonderful. I could see how both were worried yet they had missed the connection. Their time together and the restrengthing of their former bond was touching. I also really liked the romance between Daphne and Jack’s younger brother Abe. They were sweeter and and more subdued to watch but just as enjoyable. Daphne was emotionally disconnected from life as a result of the circumstances over her past year. I was captivated as Abe started gently bringing her back to life and then treated her as an equal partner and more as the story progressed.
Like Marlene I thought how Madeline balanced the scales was wonderful. So was their conversation at the end of the story.
Marlene: The suspense in this story, as I said earlier, has to do with power corrupting. The bastard who died all those years ago held some explosive secrets about the local power brokers. And now that one of the family is running for Congress, there are too many people afraid that those terrible secrets will come out at the worst possible time. There are so many suspects that it gets hard to tell which of them will boil over into murder – and which one or ones already have. I was guessing until the end.
And because the relationships between Jack and Madeline, Madeline and Daphne, and Daphne and Abe were so much fun, and because the suspense had so many nasty and fascinating layers, I was up until 4 am finishing this book.
I give Secret Sisters an A.
E: I thought the suspense was really well done. As I mentioned earlier despite my best attempts I was never able to completely predict who was going to take drastic steps. The entire family by blood or marriage seemed to think they could get away with anything and everything. Even as things started unraveling for them, each individual was sure they could save themselves and “clean” up the mess. I really love it when I can’t pin things down until the author reveals them but they make sense with the story and the characterization.
I still really enjoy her paranormal/fantasy romances but Secret Sisters reminded me of how good a standalone romantic suspense can be when done right.
I also give Secret Sisters an A