Not-So-Secret Baby, by Jo Leigh

>> Thursday, August 16, 2007

TITLE: Not-So-Secret Baby
AUTHOR: Jo Leigh

PAGES: 248
PUBLISHER: Harlequin Intrigue

SETTING: Contemporary Las Vegas
TYPE: Series romance

REASON FOR READING: The author sent it to me, I think after I lamented the fact that I'd found out too late about a contest to win it and mentioned that the title made me want to read it. It does, the in-joke makes me laugh.

The empty crib, the warning note—Jenny Granger recognized the signs that her secret life had been discovered. To save her son, she became the willing captive of a man arrogantly convinced that her baby was his child. But proof of paternity lay in the birthmark on her baby's back. One just like his real daddy...

Nick Mason had always seemed too honorable to be a corrupt man's henchman. After all, he'd helped Jenny to escape once...but not before branding her his. Now, Jenny prayed that Nick could be trusted again, especially with a truth that could get them all killed.
THE PLOT: When handsome millionaire C. Randall Todd started wooing her, Las Vegas waitress Jennie Granger was too young and naive to see beneath the polished surface. She was drawn into a relationship that soon turned abusive. Given that Todd was an immensely rich and well-connected man and that she didn't know who she could trust among the police, Jenny found it very hard to get away from him. She only managed it with the help of one of Todd's employees, Nick Mason, but not before they both gave in to their attraction and had sex.

A few years later, Jenny is living incognito with her small son in the middle of nowhere. The life she leads now is very far from the luxury of her lifestyle in Vegas, and she likes it that way. Unfortunately, all that changes when she finds little Patrick's crib empty. Todd has finally found her, and is determined to claim both Jenny and their son. Only Patrick isn't Todd's, but Nick's.

Nick is still working as Todd's henchman, and he's assigned to guard Jenny. He wishes he could help her escape again, but it's too risky. He's been undercover for years now, infiltrating Todd's organization, and he can't risk the operation now that something big is about to go down.

MY THOUGHTS: I think this one would appeal to those readers who liked Anne Stuart's Black Ice. The conflict is much the same, with the hero stuck between a rock and a hard place, having to choose between blowing a truly important mission and keeping an innocent from suffering.

It's a compelling conflict, because Leigh doesn't cop out at the last minute. There are no last-minute escapes for Jenny. There are no graphic, titillating scenes here, but it's clear that some truly awful things happen to her. While it's not the "traditional" torture of the Stuart, I think I'd take that anytime over constant rapes by a clearly sadistic and cruel man like Todd and the psychological torture of having to pretend to like them.

Jenny's a truly amazing heroine. She's got a dignity and strength that are amazing to behold, though she doesn't come across as a superwoman, just as someone doing what she has to do to survive. She's got a mama-bear thing going on, as she'd probably just give up if Patrick weren't there, but for him, she must stay whole and keep planning. And plan she does. This is not a helpless woman, waiting for someone to save her, and her escape plan looked solid to me. She hadn't taken into account Nick being a cop, so she doesn't exactly put it into action, but I had no doubt that if she'd had to, it would have worked.

Nick was a weaker character, I thought. Not "weak" and in being a weakling, but as in not being so well-done a character. I think the main thing lacking with him was a stronger sense of outrage at what Jenny was being forced to endure. He knows perfectly well what's going on every night, but while he is angry about it and hates that he can't do anything about it, he doesn't particularly torture himself about it. The situation really needed a bit more angst, I thought. Some more fighting against a "you-don't-touch-my-woman-and-live,-you-bastard" instinct, which wasn't really there.

Maybe because of this, the romance wasn't as good as it could have been. Jenny and Nick are both risking a lot when they steal a few moments together, and I was never completely convinced that this was so huge and important a love that it was worth it for them to risk death just to be close to each other for a little while.

As for the plot, it's interesting, but C. Randall Todd is a bit too much on the evil-psycho-nutso side, going to a lot of bother to do things just because. The final confrontation between him and Jenny is great, though, and I was cheering her on.



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