Setting: California, post-Civil War Miss Claire Montegue, wears drab, unflattering clothing, keeps her hair tightly braided in coils, and gives every appearance of being a very proper spinster. Hired by Mr. Gordon Partington to be the housekeeper of his grand estate when she was just seventeen, Claire managed to put the dark secrets of her childhood behind her. Through the years she learned to be a lady, as well as an efficient manager of Mr. Partington's large household; but hidden beneath the prim and proper exterior lies a passionate woman, whose bold thoughts have become unwelcome and very upsetting to her. Putting her vivid imagination to work, and fueled by Mr. Partington's tales about his nephew Tom's exciting exploits in the Army, Claire has been secretly writing dime-store novels about "Tuscaloosa Tom Pardee." Although the books have certainly helped to promote the reputation of the real Tom, at the same time they have made him an object of ridicule among his friends...and caused him no end of embarrassment. When he arrives at Partington Place to claim his inheritance, he recognizes Claire as an invaluable asset and asks her to continue her employment as housekeeper for the estate. At the same time, Tom also senses there is much more to Claire than her outward appearance suggests. Some very humorous scenes follow when Tom decides that he is just the man to teach Claire about her passionate nature, which, up until now, she has kept so well hidden. SECRET HEARTS is a fun story that has a very bewildered Tom trying, every which way he can, to learn more about Claire. He knows she is hiding something from him, but Claire is determined to keep her past a secret. She also fears the probable repercussions should Tom ever find out that she wrote the novels that made his life so miserable. Add to this some goofy, artsy secondary characters, and you have the makings of a lively tale told with much humor. ~Carol Carter for Bookbug on the Web
Claire Montaque knows how to keep a secret, and the ones she keeps are worth keeping; especially if she hopes to maintain her housekeeper position. As author of the infamous Tuscaloosa Tom Pardee dime novels, Claire steps through the looking glass when she meets hero face-to-face. Tuscaloosa Tom, patterned after frontiersman, Brevet General Thomas G. Partington, epitomizes everything Claire finds essential in a man. When General Partington arrives to claim his inheritance, Claire shakes hands with the most handsome, dashing, exciting individual she's every met. Tom Partington suddenly inherits wealth and property after years of scrimping and saving. Partington Place comes equipped with furnishings of unequal splendor, an aging, butler, nervous cook, and a spectacular housekeeper. It is the housekeeper who fills his nights with erotic dreams and his days with joy and laughter. If Tom lives to be one hundred, he will forever remember the sight of Claire Montaque the night she entertains her artist group. Her charm and elegance sear him, sending hot tentacles of desire coursing though his blood. Once he convinces the delectable Claire to be his mistress, his every desire will be fulfilled. Tom doesn't want to appear ungrateful for his unexpected turn of fortune, but he hopes his uncle's death means the end of those ridiculous pulp western novels. No matter how hard she fights the attraction, Claire falls desperately in love with Tom. Why can't life be easy? The very thing that's made her independent, and financially secure, now threatens to destroy her chance of future happiness. Yet even more sinister secrets lurk in the closet of her life. Claire finds herself trapped between the rock and a hard place. SECRET HEARTS charms, excites, and invites the reader to turn the pages ever faster. Alice Duncan introduces us to a cast of characters who immediately win our hearts. Her writing is excellent and fast paced. The plot unfolds with subtle twists and turns that intrigue. Ms. Duncan weaves a unique story with attention to detail and historical accuracy. It is always a pleasure to find an author who excels ather craft.
I read Alice Duncan's SECRET HEARTS yesterday and was completely blown away. This book was perfect. The hero and heroine were interesting and nice people. They like and respect each other from the beginning. Claire is a tremendously sweet person but she's also intelligent and practical. Nothing too saccharine. Tom is a discerning and intelligent man who realizes Claire's value almost immediately. Don't worry, though, they both have enough flaws to be human. I especially liked Tom's getting annoyed and impatient at one point while Claire is working through her problems. It made me realize how tremendously unrealistic the saintly forbearance of most romance heroes is. The secondary characters were comical and nicely developed, even though it looked at first as though they were going to fall into stereotypical roles. The conflict was internal to the relationship, no murder mystery or anything like that, so I felt like I really got to know Claire and Tom. This is one of my favourite plots: just concentrating on the love that exists between the h/h and its development as well as their relations with their families/communities. The plot description above is a pretty good summary, and I don't want to say much more because it will ruin the surprise. But add in a small artists' colony, the townspeople and Claire and Tom's families and you have a dynamic group of characters and a terrific story. You also have a wonderful statement about the value of pulp fiction. Alice dedicates the book "to romance writers and readers everywhere. Like Claire, we often find our reading choices disparaged. I figure that's only because the disparagers don't know what they're missing." The process of Claire learning to take pride in her novels is delightful and affirms the value of such reading to all our lives. I especially liked the character of Mrs. Finchley. Although at first I worried that she was there simply to make a statement about women and their value, she performed the very valuable fu! nction of giving Claire the strength and pride to stand up for herself. Although I hadn't noticed this problem in Claire up to that point, I realized that this could have bothered me a lot in retrospect. Sorry if this is a little cryptic but it comes towardthe end of the book, so I don't want to ruin anything. I also loved how the book was written. The descriptions of nature filtered through Claire's point of view are wonderful and very reflective of her personality and writing style. This is a definite keeper for me.