Tender Secrets

Ann Christopher
October 2008, Series Romance
Harlequin Kimani, $5.99, 256 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373860870

Grade: B+
Sensuality: Hot

This is the fifth novel in Ann Christopher's quickly expanding shelf of work and the most polished of them all. Having followed her from the start of her romance career to date, I'll say that she has gotten better with each book. The two elements where she is at her strongest are sexual tension and great dialogue. Her two weakest elements are the crafting of a believable back story and the development of sympathetic characters. In Tender Secrets, she improves on her strengths as well as delivers her first duo of truly likable major characters, the previous absence of which usually dampened my enjoyment of an otherwise excellent romance. The believability of the heroine's back story still suffers a bit, however.

Viveca Jackson is a young reporter for the New York Times who sells a book proposal on the history of the wealthy Warner family, owners of a Fortune 1000 company. Viveca plans to make this book a nasty tell-all, to embarrass the Warners and avenge the ignominious death of her father, who after losing his arm on a faulty piece of machinery in their sweat shop of a factory,was heartlessly let go and proceeded to drink himself to death. She has since dedicated her life to making the Warners pay.

We aren't given any indication that Viveca had ever done a similar form of family biography, so I found it unbelievable that she would not only secure this book deal, but be welcomed by the family matriarch, the proud, cold Arnetta, onto the Warner estate for six months of free room and board. Not only does Arnetta fail to perform the barest of due diligence on Viveca, she allows her carte blanche to write as she pleases. Odd as it is, this set-up is firmly in place by the end of the first chapter and I found it easier to accept in the midst of a strong romance.

Andrew Warner is the thirty-five year old CEO of Warner Brands and when he learns of his grandmother's plans to participate in a family biography, his knee-jerk reaction is to put a stop to it. He knows nothing of Viveca's vendetta but has his own secret to hide. He is not a Warner, thanks to his sexually rampaging and indiscriminate mother. Despite having knowledge of this since the age of twelve, Andrew has worked hard as the family heir and by effort, though not blood, deserves the title of CEO.

His first scene with Viveca is characterized by potent sexual tension, a state of affairs which continues unabated for the rest of the book but never feels drawn out or overplayed. Despite my problems with Viveca's back story, I liked her personality. She is quite brazen (accepting the extended hospitality of the family you hope to crush with no apparent qualms) but not in the "feisty" way some heroines have that shows more stupidity than strength. Her brazenness and disdain for the accumulated wealth of the Warner family works well against Andrew's humongous sense of self-worth, which has not been overly impacted by his uncertain parentage. A stand-out for me, though, was the fact that Christopher didn't pussy-foot around the issue of Andrew's arrogance. He has firm ideas about his place in society and his ability to get what he wants, when he wants it - and this didn't annoy me as his behavior was in keeping with what I expected of the leader of a profitable multinational corporation.

His ego aside, Viveca begins to fall in love with other aspects of his character, which in true "reformed rake" fashion turns out to be much better than she expected which of course, makes things much worse for her. Andrew has charitable impulses, and there is a nice mix of rueful self-knowledge and frustrated anger about Viveca when she realizes this. It made her into a sympathetic character. She fights her attraction to Andrew for the strongest of reasons, but he is a lovable mix of pride, vulnerability and okay - serious hotness.

Though Christopher uses words better suited to superheroes when describing Andrew ("moving quickly, unleashing what she knew was just a little of his limitless power..."), in the end he is very much a mortal man who has fallen in love when he didn't want to, to a person he thinks he shouldn't. Viveca has the same issues to face and their individual routes to dealing with this unexpected passion made for an extremely enjoyable romance. You can bet I'll continue to follow Ann Christopher's work.

-- Abi Bishop

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