One of Miss Bates’s favourite poems is Robert Frost’s “The Secret Sits:”: “We dance round in a ring and suppose,/But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.” Frost identifies our tendency to avoid truths which reveal our psychological soft spots. Inside us and between us sits the secret and the secret is truth and truth hurts. But it also “sets us free”. Between the hero and heroine of Cathyrn Parry’s The Secret Between Them is a secret haunting them since their teens. It was watered with guilt and its name is shame. Jessica Hughes was a star figure skater who practised her sport in Kyle Northrup’s step-father’s rink. Kyle was a star hockey player who also practised there. Kyle and his step-father’s relationship was one of anger and recrimination, especially after Kyle’s mum died when he was twelve. Kyle’s anger against Joe, his step-dad, resulted in an injury to Jessica and dashed her Olympic hopes. Kyle left Wallis Point, New Hampshire, ashamed and vowing never to return, to join the Marines. Years later, he returns, an injured veteran with a prosthetic foot, to claim his inheritance from Joe, the very rink he fled from. Jessica is still in Wallis Point, a dedicated physical therapist, no longer “the sweetheart of Wallis Point,” but still “the great ache of his teenage years … his dream girl.”
Kyle’s secret shame kept him away, but so did Joe’s scowling, angry manner and dissatisfaction with his step-son. Jessica also has a secret, one that took advantage of Kyle’s guilt and absence to free herself from her domineering, figure-skating-is-your-life Godzilla-mom. Kyle experiences guilt and shame for bringing an end to Jessica’s athletic career, Jessica for taking advantage of Kyle’s seeming guilt to free herself from her controlling mother and life she’d come to hate. If not for Joe’s will bringing them together again, Kyle and Jessica would stay away from each other. But Joe left the now-dilapidated “Twin Rinks” (one for hockey, another for recreational and figure skating) to BOTH Kyle and Jessica and they have six months to turn a profit or the rink will be sold. For Kyle, the rink represents a hope for redemption from the past and the possibility to make hockey available to himself and his “wounded warriors” buddies. For Jessica, it’s a nightmare come true. But she resolves to help Kyle with the rink.
It’s true, there are heck of a lot of secrets between these two. They carry secrets from their past. Kyle thinks he’s the cause of Jessica’s pain. And Jessica thinks she exploited Kyle and drove him from home. Since then, she’s terrified he’ll be hurt, or worse, in Afghanistan. Kyle, in turn, is ashamed of his prosthesis and decides to repair and renovate the rink in ways that are too difficult for him. He’s kept his torch for Jessica burning bright, but hidden. He doesn’t want her to know about his injury, his manful pride and still secret feelings for her held tight and close to his heart.
Truth be told (no secrets here!) Miss Bates near-DNF-ed Parry’s romance. It was made up of all kinds of improbable and honed with the WORST narrative ploy in the genre, secrets. The first few chapters were a bulldozer-sized info-dump: with a premise that convoluted, what else is a rom-writer to do? Even forgiving the info-dump, there were the issues of Kyle’s and Jessica’s obsession over their appearance: Kyle, because of his foot; and Jessica, because she is no longer “a figure-skating princess. Fit and thin to the point of being ethereal”. This last thought from Kyle, who thinks she’s pregnant when he sees her again. :-\
Wait, there’s more! With Kyle’s still-smouldering feelings and Jessica’s growing liking and admiration as they work together at the rink, we mustn’t neglect to let Miss Bates’s readers know that Jessica has a nasty-piece-of-work fiancé, Sebastien. Sebastien is Jessica’s chance to fulfill her yearning for a family, a home and deeper roots, to assuage her isolation, “Jessica had always felt alone at heart, and she was tired of it.” Kyle yearns for the same: “Kyle has always wanted to be rooted, to belong somewhere.” These meager narrative samplings may give Miss Bates’s readers an idea why she didn’t DNF Parry’s novel. Despite all its problems, the secrets sitting in the middle of it, Miss Bates grew to care for Kyle and Jessica. And she grew to care for what Parry was trying to do, even when the execution was clunky. Miss Bates thinks Parry was trying to say that people’s lives get messy and complicated. Sometimes what they need is right before them and it gets mixed up with what they think they want. Certainly, Jessica remaining with the fiancé and trying trying trying to be with him when she is so happy with Kyle doesn’t make sense. But she had a vision of what her life should be like and wasn’t ready to let it go for the unknown.
Like Jessica, Kyle’s attraction to her doesn’t deter from his reluctance to have a relationship: “He had not touched a woman since he’d left for his last tour in Afghanistan. He doubted he would touch one again. Frankly, like this, he didn’t want to.” Kyle’s uncertainty comes from his prosthesis. Kyle is unhappy and yet so determined. He’s really quite admirable. Jessica is sad and yet, in time, faces her fears of the rink. She overcomes fear and antipathy to help Kyle, her patients, and free herself of the past. They both do. And Miss Bates couldn’t help but like them for it. Kyle is genuinely motivated by love for Jessica, ” … at some point, within these remaining months, he wanted to get her back on the ice … because she was wounded – every bit as much as he was.” Jessica finds a kindred spirit in Kyle “Those green, pained eyes that were broken. Like she felt broken sometimes. Like a fundamental piece of her was missing that other people had. Did Kyle feel like that too?” Together, working on the rink, they build each other up. They become friends.
Miss Bates appreciated Parry’s ability to write a narrative devoid of insta-lust. She enjoyed those moments of physical awareness that told the reader Jessica and Kyle’s affection had its physical side. But Jessica’s fiancé was problematic. It made for a tepid romance – if the heroine is going to expend her energy on another man to the 78% mark of the novel, that’s a problem. Miss Bates has to admit, however, that when Jessica and Kyle’s time does come, it’s pretty great, even truncated and hurried. There are other aspects to the conclusion that were hasty and random, but Jessica and Kyle were not. Their emotions were convincing and their one, awkward, desperate love scene made up in authenticity what it lacked in elegance. Miss Bates also thought Parry defined the most realistic HEA she’s ever read in Jessica’s description of her and Kyle’s relationship: “She considered them a team of equals, who helped each other according to their strengths.” It’s not romantic, but it is true and lovely. Cathryn Parry has potential, thought Miss Bates. Her ethos and style come close to Janice Kay Johnson’s and that can only be a good thing. Misses Austen and Bates deem Cathryn Parry’s The Secret Between Them as providing “real comfort,” Emma.
Cathryn Parry’s The Secret Between Them is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on January 29th and is available at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates is grateful to Harlequin for an e-ARC via Netgalley.