Series: Deadly Secrets

Unspeakable by Elisabeth Naughton

Unspeakable by Elisabeth NaughtonUnspeakable by Elisabeth Naughton
Series: Deadly Secrets #4
Published by Montlake Romance on 20th November 2018
Pages: 304
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four-stars

All his siblings have moved on from their troubling pasts, but Rusty McClane can’t leave his behind. Not even when his freedom is in jeopardy.

Legal investigator Harper Blake can sense a bad boy. She’s drawn to them—like she is to her mysterious and brooding new client. The police believe that Rusty is involved with the case of a missing underage girl. Harper’s job is to find evidence to defend him. But is her sexy suspect a predator…or something else?

If Rusty is guilty of anything, it’s of stirring something primitive in Harper. The closer they get, the harder it is to believe the worst of him.

But in an underworld filled with sex trafficking, kidnapping, and murder, Harper will need to be cautious about whom she trusts. Because Rusty isn’t the only one with secrets.

Elisabeth Naughton’s ‘Deadly Secrets’ is a series that constantly surprises me, and much of that has to do with how Naughton weaves stories built on the unrelated personal histories of each adopted McClane sibling’s varied pasts. ‘Unspeakable’ is an engaging suspense right from the start and one that quite pointedly starts out by shaping Rusty McClane first, as a questionable protagonist and then later, a gruff and compelling shiny knight in armour living a double life and is quite worthy of the romantic-hero-accolade.

And it’s Rusty who shines, along with his demons, his irresistible vigilante persona—Stephen Amell as the Arrow keeps coming to mind—that he hides from everyone. However, I had my reservations about the disgraced ex-cop Harper Blake—her own shady history, her eagerness to work with Rusty and her personal agenda that she keeps from him—because for quite a bit of the story, the self-serving bit of dishonesty just to get her lost career back and her reliance on their sexual chemistry to get things moving kept nagging at me. With a quick-fire conflict-climax-resolution that was offered almost as an aside towards the end, it was admittedly, harder to root for a pairing as solidly as I thought I would after a spectacular beginning.

Danger and intrigue are present throughout which makes the book hard to put down once I dug in. There are brilliants scenes alternating between the gut-churning sex trade and the sultry heat that builds between Rusty and Harper, and coupled with a good number of players (and a series of ‘generational’ coincidences attributed to fate that might be a little hard to swallow) that Naughton juggles quite effortlessly.

So bottom-line here: my own quibbles with the heroine aside, ‘Unspeakable’ is a sufficiently complex, not too convoluted read and by and large, a pretty good addition to the RS genre that I’m always putting my nose in.

four-stars

Protected by Elisabeth Naughton

Protected by Elisabeth NaughtonProtected by Elisabeth Naughton
Series: Deadly Secrets #3
Published by Montlake Romance on March 20th 2018
Pages: 304
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four-stars

Up-and-coming designer Kelsey McClane is on the cusp of success. Recently divorced, she should be enjoying her newfound freedom and glamorous future. Instead, she’s living in fear of the past. When she returns home to Portland on a press tour, danger creeps closer than ever. As threatening messages from her bitter ex-husband leave her vulnerable, a new man in her life makes her feel protected.

Former Army Ranger turned security professional Hunter O’Donnell is hired to guard Kelsey. When a shattering explosion rocks her world, Kelsey’s ex is the prime suspect, but Hunter speculates there’s more to the situation than Kelsey’s letting on. Intent on keeping her safe, he delves into Kelsey’s past. As the two work together to unmask her stalker’s identity, a fire ignites between them that they both struggle to contain.

While the investigation proceeds, it draws them closer not only to each other but also to a lethal plot that’s been in the works behind their backs. And with each new secret unveiled, it’s not just temptation putting them at risk—it’s a madman who will not stop until Kelsey is dead.

What I like so much about Romantic Suspense sub-genre is the blend of heart-pounding action and steamy romance (sometimes with a little mystery written into it) and when written well, provides a bum-clenching, fuck-the-world kind of escape that almost nothing comes close to. ‘Protected’ is one of those reads, reeling me in from the start with unresolved tension that’s almost immediately followed by an explosion that throws the life Kelsey McClane has been rebuilding back into chaos.

There’s a huge backstory to go into once the dust settles but I’ve found it an engaging read that was hard to put down, with several turns that were surprising but needed a little more suspension of disbelief. ‘Protected’ is nonetheless a good standalone, with minimal links to the rest of the series.

Elisabeth Naughton did write Kelsey and Hunter mostly as sympathetic characters: I understood Kelsey’s insecurities, empathised with the emotional abuse and the past she had and her reasons for drawing back from Hunter when she distrusted her own judgement. Warming up to Hunter took a little more time for me—the apparent two-timing act early on didn’t quite endear me to him—but seeing him stepping into his role as protector later on, strapping in despite his own reservations did make him and Kelsey a pairing that I thought I could get behind. There were waffling moments between them however, flawed as they were, and the HFN ending when the wounds have barely healed might seem somewhat unsatisfactory.

That said, ‘Protected’ was a thoroughly absorbing afternoon diversion, and didn’t get any better than the straight-up romantic suspense read.

four-stars

Gone by Elisabeth Naughton

Gone by Elisabeth NaughtonGone by Elisabeth Naughton
Series: Deadly Secrets #2
Published by Montlake Romance on January 10th 2017
Pages: 303
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three-stars

Three years ago, Alec and Raegan Devereaux lived every parent’s worst nightmare: their one-year-old daughter, Emma, was abducted from a park when Alec turned his back for just a moment. Emma was never found, and presumed dead. The crushing trauma, plus Alec’s unbearable guilt, ended the couple’s marriage.
Now a four-year-old girl matching Emma’s profile is found wandering a local park. Alec and Raegan are heartbroken to discover she’s not their daughter but are newly motivated to find closure…and each secretly feels desperate to be in the other’s presence again.
Alec suspects his vengeful biological father is behind Emma’s disappearance. But as Raegan investigates other abductions in the area, she sees a pattern—and begins to wonder if Emma’s kidnapping is actually linked to something more sinister.
As Alec and Raegan race to uncover the truth, a long-burning spark rekindles into smoldering passion, and they realize they need each other now more than ever.

Alex McClane struggles with more than disappointing his wife and family; he also battles a severe drinking addiction and the notion that his erratic, violent behaviour might be genetically inherited from a man whom he calls his biological father. This much—along with the overwhelming guilt—bring him to end a short-lived marriage that died when his daughter goes missing. Three years later, he isn’t in a better place until a call from the FBI brings his ex-wife back into his life, who incidentally, seems to be compiling research on child-abductions that indicate their daughter’s disappearance is anything but a coincidence.

I’d always wondered how Elisabeth Naughton was going to continue the ‘Dearly Secrets’ series, and ‘Gone’ seemed to be a good indication that the books would be about the adopted family members of the McClane family, with Alex’s story being the second book—and completely unrelated to his brother’s one. It works well as a standalone and quite possibly lies on a trigger fault-line for some as it deals with child abduction and addiction and the devastating effect it could have on a marriage.

The protagonists were clearly flawed in some ways that left narrative space for character growth: Alex’s constant denial and guilt—which devolve into self-pity after a while—destroying people and relationships around him, while Reagen seemed to be a bit of a spineless twit and a damsel in distress from the start (admirable as her determination not to believe her daughter is dead) as she pined for a man who’d not only walked cruelly away from her but also called for the divorce as he sought comfort in alcohol. It eventually did get better though, with some twists that hinted at a bigger conspiracy which still stretched my ability to suspend disbelief even as the plot trundled along from time to time.

‘Gone’ is a decent read nonetheless, and I’d be interested in knowing who’s (or what’s) next in this series.

three-stars

Repressed by Elisabeth Naughton

Repressed by Elisabeth NaughtonRepressed by Elisabeth Naughton
Series: Deadly Secrets #1
Published by Montlake Romance on July 26th 2016
Pages: 316
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three-stars

Hidden Falls is exactly as Samantha Parker left it—small, insular, and prone to gossip. Eighteen years have passed since she witnessed her brother’s murder, but she’s still the talk of the town. Until a handsome child psychologist with haunting memories of his own arrives.
Dr. Ethan McClane isn’t exactly a newcomer. If it weren’t for his latest case, he’d never set foot back in Hidden Falls. Thankfully, no one seems to recognize him as the troubled teen from years past. Not even Sam, the delightfully sharp and sexy high school chemistry teacher he can’t stop thinking about.
When Sam and Ethan work together to help one of her students, sparks ignite. But Sam’s hazy memories of a long-ago night concern Ethan, and unlocking the repressed images reveals a dark connection between them. As the horrors of the past finally come to light, their relationship isn’t the only thing in danger. A killer will strike again to keep an ugly secret hidden, and this time no one will be safe.

I wasn’t too sure what to expect of Elisabeth Naughton’s new series but my most recent memory of the Aegis Security series remains a fairly good one, so it didn’t hurt at all to give ‘Repressed’ a try.

A few chapters in, I thought that the story read like a novelisation of a crime drama or a movie: a small town brimming with secrets that aren’t of the good sort, filled with the worst kind of people who seem to be out for any pound of flesh they can get – literally so at times. There’s the prerequisite murder mystery buried under political influence and hazy memories, until a child-psychologist’s return stirs up the trouble everyone is trying to avoid.

But as with every Naughton book, there were parts I liked and parts I didn’t, which makes writing every review of hers tricky. Naughton’s writing and the elaborate plot of her story are engaging enough, yet the narrative itself doesn’t quite deviate much from the structure of many crime stories for me to find it prominently memorable. Yet I flew through the book, which made me think it’s an easy read simply because it isn’t draining as other crime thrillers can be.

Ethan’s and Sam’s relationship in itself isn’t too much of a surprise (even if they went from meeting to sex to love in a short time), but because plot and the intricacies of small town life seem to take precedence here, a large but frustrating part of what keeps it going is deception or avoidance of the issue that aren’t revealed until I was three-quarters of the way through. The secrets Ethan has been keeping and Sam’s repressed memories provide a missing piece of the jigsaw but by and large, there are hints about a fateful night 18 years ago, and these are sort of sufficient to help the guessing game I had gotten going on from the very start. There were some leaps of logic I had to get over, yet being so far removed from the past sins of a group of smarmy people made it difficult to be fully invested in a case that the two main leads are ultimately, only peripherally linked to.

three-stars