The Secret by Julie Garwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book grabbed from the Prologue, filled with both endearing and funny moments. In a few pages, Ms. Garwood had me loving Judith, the heroine, and her friend Frances Catherine. By the end of Chapter 2, I was also in love with Iain, the hero, and smiling like a silly girl. What a nice way to start a book!
Judith and Frances Catherine met as children and formed an unlikely friendship. Judith was English and Frances Catherine was Scottish, and everyone knew that English and Scottish hated each other... Well, everyone but Judith and Frances Catherine! Their friendship lasted through all the years, and now Frances Catherine was pregnant and wanted Judith by her side as promised years before, to help her with the birth of her child. Iain was the laird of the Maitland clan and Frances Catherine's brother-in-law, and the idea of having an Englishwoman as a guest in his lands didn't particularly sit well with him but he agreed to fulfill his sister-in-law's request - after all, he was an honorable man and he always put his family first, no matter what. So he set to England to fetch Judith and escort her to her friend's side, even though he expected her to dishonor her childhood promise and not go to Frances Catherine's. She was English, hence her word didn't mean anything, right? Well, Iain was more than surprised to find out his preconceived notions about Judith were wrong, not to mention a bit disturbed to see how she managed to enchant not only him but all of his men in no time. But she had a secret - yeah, the one the titles refers to - that could complicate a relationship between them, so she was determined to fight her attraction to him. Not that would make any difference, once Iain had his mind set on keeping her... ;)
Iain was just wonderful! Honorable, protective, caring and, oh yes, arrogant. He didn't ask, he demanded. His marriage proposal to Judith made me gasp, then laugh. It was so delicious and outrageous. "Judith, I'm keeping you." How could she argue with that? (LOL) And yet, he couldn't find a way to get her to understand the "chain of command" to be followed in his clan. But he was no fool when it came to Judith and didn't waste time trying to keep her at arm's lenght.
Judith was as great as Iain. Honorable, kind-hearted and smart. Stubborn too, because that was the only way she could meet Iain's arrogance. She wasn't afraid to stand her ground but she never acted like those stupid heroines who pick a fight with the hero just to show how "feisty" they are. She was above that. Seeing her argue her cases in her particular ilogical way of thinking was too funny. No wonder everyone always ended up agreeing with her.
Iain and Judith's love story was funny and sigh-worthy at the same time. I lost count of the times I laughed out loud - thankfully, there was no one else around or they would think I was crazy - or simply smiled in contentment. There were also a few angsty moments near the end of the book, but I never doubted that Iain would make everything right.
Now, I need to comment on the feeling of déjà vu that bugged me a little while I was reading it. In one particular sequence of events, I was reminded of A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught: when the little boy threw some stones at Judith, she protected him, settled the matter by herself and, in the process, gained the boy's mother's allegiance and respect. That had enough similarity with some events in McNaught's book to make me raise an eyebrow. Going further, Judith and the heroine in A Kingdom of Dreams also had some similar characteristics: both were somewhat mistreated by their own families, their fathers were their heroes' enemy and they only found their "place in the world" in their heroes' clans. Of course, there were several differences that kept the books apart, and The Secret was a very enjoyable read by its own merit. I already see myself rereading it over and over again in the future.
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