If there’s one thing I miss, it’s a good category romance. With many categories going the way of the bodice-ripper and trusted, true category writers absconding with their talents to other publishing pastures, it’s a rare and wonderful thing to have a few trusted category friends. One such is Sherri Shackelford, whose inspirational histrom I continue to miss. Though I’m not a fan of Intrigue, or this inspie-light parallel category, I ready by author and every other perimetre be damned (it’s how I *shudder* followed Sarah Morgan, beloved HP-author, to WF). In Shackelford’s latest, Stolen Secrets, I found the same delightful sense of humour and likable protagonists as I did in the histrom. The “suspense” part wasn’t to my particular interest, but I went along, and the narrative clipped along nicely, just to reach the HEA for heroine Lucy Sutton and hero Jordan Harris. When Shackelford’s scene opens: Lucy and Jordan are meeting in a coffee shop, a year after Lucy lost her fiancé and Jordan’s mission partner, Brandt Gallagher. Jordan has had a long road to recovery from the blast that killed Brandt and both Jordan and Lucy are still raw from grief. Their meeting is interrupted by a shooter in the café and Jordan and Lucy barely make it out alive.
Lucy, a programmer who works on code for drones, and Jordan, an agent with the National Security Agency, soon realize Lucy is being targetted because of the work she does. Someone has even impersonated her in an attempt to frame her. Much of the narrative’s suspense part is occupied with ensuring Lucy’s safety and catching the bad guys/gals who targetted her and are trying to steal secrets essential to national security. Mixed in with the suspense plot are Lucy and Jordan’s complicated feelings. They share a love and grief for Brandt and fight a growing attraction and affection. I loved that Lucy was the more forward-looking of the two, ready to find someone to love. She was ready where Jordan wallowed in an excess of pity and guilty about falling in love with his dead friend’s fiancée. It wasn’t exactly a case of the gentleman doth protest too much. Jordan genuinely is an introspective, considered character. He never denies his feelings, but wants to weigh the ethics of the situation. For an inspie romance, it was lovely to read a heroine who isn’t hesitant about making her feelings, emotional and physical, known.
Above all, I delighted in Lucy and Jordan’s gentle banter and Shackelford’s droll details (what also made me love her historical romance), including Mr. Nibbles, Lucy’s pet pig. For example, here is Lucy and Jordan’s exchange after the café attack:
“This will be easier if I carry you. Are you okay with that?”
“I guess, but I’m too heavy.”
He scooped her into his arms. At the feel of her, a shock ran through his arms and landed with a sizzle in his chest. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ve got a Bowflex.” Lucy chuckled.
“I’m very manly.” Her laughter warmed him, and one edge of his mouth kicked up. “I also chop wood and jog uphill carrying sacks of concrete mix.” She looped her arms around his neck.
“Now I know you’re pulling my leg.”
I loved Jordan’s gentle teasing, with a view to put Lucy at ease and make a scary situation less so. Neither Jordan nor Lucy took themselves too seriously, but they did take the other’s feelings and desires seriously. They were funny, warm, affectionate, and believable, beyond the suspense shenanigans, as two people who are going to have a wonderful life together. Shackelford’s romance is lovely because she’s created two personable, engaging protagonists. With Miss Austen, we say Stolen Secrets offers “real comfort,” Emma.
Sherri Shackelford’s Stolen Secrets is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on March 1st and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-copy from the author.