Thursday, July 10, 2008

Thursday Talk-Time: Favourite Category Romance - 'Secret Admirer'

A favourite romance. Is it even possible to choose just one? This week our regular columnist Annie West talks about a category romance that’s one of her special ‘keepers’.

I find it hard being asked to choose favourites even though it happens all the time. My children seem fixated on exploring ‘favourites’ and, for obvious reasons, interviews often include questions about most loved books, films, etc. I’m intrigued to read other people’s answers to those questions but have incredible difficulty choosing a single favourite myself. But among the many terrific romances I’ve read I had no trouble finding one to share with you. It’s so good I just wish I’d written it!

Susan Napier’s Harlequin Presents story, SECRET ADMIRER, is a stand out book for me, despite the fact that it’s now 16 years old. 16 years represents a lot of romances under the bridge and yet I remember this book vividly. It was such fun to pick it up again recently and rediscover what a great story it is.

I’m a sucker for a memorable opening and SECRET ADMIRER delivers in spades. Grace darts into the lift of a high rise building in downtown Auckland. When she discovers a couple already occupy the lift she almost backs out but the sound of pursuing footsteps racing closer makes her enter and slam her hand across the ‘close door’ button. Her companions aren’t friendly and when the lift gets stuck between floors Grace snuggles down into her borrowed fur coat and tries to avoid eye contact. Unfortunately the air conditioning breaks down too and the temperature soars. Still Grace refuses to give up her coat. Infuriated by her stubbornness, when she’s obviously about to pass out from heat exhaustion, Scott Gregory steps forward and rips the coat open, intending to push it off her shoulders. But he’s not prepared for what he discovers. That single act is the catalyst for a story of enormous intensity and ingenuity and emotional honesty.

Here’s what the back cover blurb has to say:
Grace under pressure
Running into a potential business partner late at night in a broken elevator – when one was wearing a glamorous fur with nothing on underneath – was awkward, but Grace Blair was cool enough to handle a hot situation.
Her poised, controlled demeanour belied the insecurity she felt taking over her late husband’s business empire, but Scott Gregory was able with one caressing glance to strip away all her pretences. Especially since the handsome New Zealander had made it clear from their first inauspicious meeting that in business, knowledge was power – and that he knew exactly what he wanted.

One of the things Susan Napier does beautifully is make us sympathise with her heroine. That confrontation isn’t the last in the book (of course!) as Scott pursues the woman who intrigues him. When she encounters him again at a tense business meeting, he’s already discomfited her by first sending a not-so-subtle reminder of the night they met. The last thing she wants is to confront the contemptuous stranger from the lift but to learn he’s the powerful entrepreneur threatening the survival of her company is the stuff of nightmares. Especially when, in one short meeting he strips away her gallant defences and discovers the vulnerabilities no one else has guessed at. The author does a fantastic job of creating a heroine who’s stoically strong yet incredibly vulnerable. Nor does she shy from putting Grace in situations that make the reader almost cringe with embarrassment on her behalf. Yet Grace proves herself strong enough and honest enough to win our respect.

As for Scott, he’s one of my all time favourite heroes. Intense, edgy, intelligent, self assured and with an absolute focus that makes his pursuit of Grace a fascinating and sometimes unexpected journey. However, though he’s tough and sometimes pushy, he’s caring, honest and supportive. He makes no bones about the fact that he wants her, but he never tries to bully her into submission. He has too much appreciation of her spirit and her emotions to do that. Instead he woos her, engages her mind, challenges her and makes her confront the changes in her life. The passion between them is a so powerful and Scott such a sexy hero that it’s a hard book to put down.

This hero is a wonderfully real character, with secrets in his past. He has to confront those and learn to move on. In fact, he's one of the most intriguing romance heroes I’ve read, but I’d better not reveal too much for fear of including a spoiler.

If you’re looking for intense emotion, strong characterisation and a ripping good love story, see if you can find SECRET ADMIRER.

Has anyone else read this book? I know I’m not the only Susan Napier fan out there. If you haven’t, do you have recommendations for another terrific category romance, preferably one that starts, like this one, with a bang?

Annie is working on her next story for Harlequin Mills and Boon Modern/Presents/Sexy and trying not to get distracted by thoughts of other great books she wants to reread.
Her For the Sheikh’s Pleasure is currently a finalist in the National Readers’ Choice Award. Her latest release, The Greek Tycoon’s Unexpected Wife is available from Amazon. You can read about her next release The Desert King’s Pregnant Bride on her website.


  1. Annie, what a fantastic post. And such a reminder of a classic of romance. Susan Napier really packs the emotion and the drama into this story, doesn't she? Without ever losing touch with what real people Grace and Scott are. It's a book I remembered for a long time too. I re-read it about 18 months ago and thought, wow, it still packs a punch. And talk about starting with a bang! I love this chance to revsit older books! Thanks!

  2. Oh, forgot the recommendations - one that springs to mind is an old Lynne Graham called Prisoner of Passion. Most of the action takes place when the mismatched hero and heroine (although of course, they're perfect for each other) are kidnapped and locked in a shipping container. The sexual tension is so thick, you could cut it with a knife. Great stuff!

  3. Hi Anna,

    Great of you to pop by and excellent to hear you're a fan of this book too. It is a great start isn't it? It's the sort of romance I can just lose myself in.

    Ooh, I know 'Prisoner of Passion' too. That title takes on a whole new significance when you realise they're stuck in a shipping container together. I loved the intensity of that book - just like in 'Secret Admirer'. And the hero and heroine do seem mismatched at a cursory glance, but they are just meant for each other. Great stuff!


  4. Hi Annie

    I'm such a Susan Napier fan and I loved the SECRET ADMIRER, too! But I think my very favourite golden goodie of hers is HONEYMOON BABY... though SAVAGE COURTSHIP is another contender...

    Uh-oh...... now you've got me reminiscing on my old fav category romances... How about Linda Howard's Sarah's Child, Dallas Schultz's Addie and the Renegade, Emma Darcy's Outback Heat, and, and...

    Oh, dear, I really must stop! Perhaps a nice cup of tea and a little read...

    Thanks for this opportunity to walk down memory lane, Annie!


  5. Hi Sharon,

    I'm glad I gave you the chance to revisit memory lane. Actually, I don't think I've read 'Honeymoon Baby' and as for 'Addie and the Renegade' - definitely intriguing. Already I'm wondering what sort of renegade. For some reason it sounds like a western to me.

    It's only with great difficulty that I'm restraining myself from opening up the boxes of very old favourites. Sigh. One day I'll have enough space to put them all on bookshelves (dreaming of a library here).

    Hope you enjoy your read and your cup of tea.


  6. Annie, I, too am a huge fan of Susan Napier. I have quite a few on my keeper shelf, and I do remember Secret Admirer, but I can't find it anywhere and I haven't read it for years. I must hunt down another copy.

    The thing I love about her is all her heroines are different -- all gutsy in their own way, but also vulnerable. Does anyone remember the girl with snowy hair and thick glasses? And the girl who the hero thought was a hockey-playing school girl at first meet but who turned out to be the teacher?

    Mmmm, I feel a susannapierathon coming on.
    Best of luck with the NRCA, Annie.

  7. My favourite ever Mills and Boon is a Susan Napier too - The Mistress Deception. The characters are so memorable - really pushing the boundaries of both hero and heroine - fabulous! I haven't read Secret Admirer, I'd love to get my hands on a copy. Interestingly Napier's In Bed With The Boss was the first Mills and Boon I ever read and it had me hooked for life. Great Post!

  8. Anne, you're so right about SN's heroines all being such individuals. I love that - the feeling that they're real. It's daunting to a newish writer though - wondering how well I create real characters myself. In my head they're all different but you always wonder.

    I loved one of her recent releases where the heroine was scared of heights (in a soaring city tower with huge windows), wearing a strapless dress that didn't suit her body shape and was so clumsy and still the discerning hero realised she was someone special. She was nervous and prickly and intriguine. That was another great read.

    I love picking up a great romance and finding so many facets to enjoy. Luckily there are lots of those from a range of authors all with different styles.

    Anne, thanks for the NCRA good wishes. I'm just thrilled about the nomination.


  9. Sabrina, thanks so much. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Fun to find another fan of SN. I've got The Mistress Deception in my collection. Trouble is, after this blog, it's so tempting to go and dive into some rereading. I'm trying to be strong as I have work I really must do and some fantastic looking new releases to read. Maybe I could just slip in a couple of the older ones too.

    Thanks for posting. I might just go and add TMD to my TBR pile!


  10. What a fun post, Annie. But you're a seriously bad influence, because I now want to go out and read a bunch of SN's and my tbr pile is already full to bursting.

    I can't pick a favourite, but a couple that made an impression on me...

    Emma Darcy's The Unpredictable Man. The first time the heroine claps eyes on the hero it's in an elevator (what is it about elevators?) and he's kissing a woman, his hands are roving all over this woman's backside, and the heroine is trying not to watch. It was hilarious and totally unexpected.

    The other was Jennifer Crusie's Sizzle. It was just so much fun.

    And yes, I still have copies of both. And I know I should be getting back to work, but... it's important for writers to read :-)

  11. Absolutely, Michelle - we have to read. It's in the job description!(G). Haven't read Sizzle yet (how did I miss it?). The Emma Darcy book sounds familiar. I must hunt it out.

    Hm, I'm wondering if there's something inherently sexy about elevators. Maybe I'll have to work on opening a story there too one day.


  12. Oooh, thank you for this. Every single one of SN's books is on my keeper shelf (one might call it the Susan Napier shelf instead!).

    There are so many layers to peel back in her books, really bucking perceptions of M&B romance. Hero's that woo the mind as well as the body! Extraordinarily diverse heroines. Ah, too many wonderful things

    My favourites might be SN's 'Another Time' with its Eurasian heroine or 'Winter of Dreams' (which follows the family from the 'True Enchanter' which included aforementioned snowy haired heroine). Sorry, I've probably said too much!

    Thanks for the post!

  13. Have to say, Secret Admirer was the first Susan Napier I read, and it remains my absolute favourite! So you're not alone in that fave, Annie. She manages to write such alpha guys who then become wonderfully vulnerable, and I fall in love with them. Another of my keepers is Diana Palmer's Cattleman's Choice - where the guy really is objectionable and untameable, except by the heroine, awwww.

  14. Bec, of course you haven't said too much - you've just whet my appetite for more. I'm definitely going to search out my old books and see which of these I have. I'm pretty sure I've never read 'Another Time'.

    I love your comment about her writing heroes that woo the mind as well as the body! That was one of the things that struck me about 'Secret Admirer'. The hero challenges Grace on so many levels and we see why they're going to work so well together as a couple.

    I love that burst of physical attraction so many romances portray so well, but that ones that work best for me have more tucked in there about the pair connecting at another level too.

    Thanks for the recommendations.


  15. Hi Malvina,

    Fancy this being your first book by Susan Napier. What a way to begin! I haven't read 'Cattleman's Choice' but will keep an eye out for it now. It sounds from your description as if the heroine had her work cut out for her!