passion rating: warm
Christina Dodd gets plenty right in her latest romantic suspense novel. Her hero is a bona fide hottie, the mystery underlying her tale is interesting, and her setting, Northern California's wine country, is so well-rendered I long to take my next vacation there. 80% of this book is really good. The other 20% is missing. Pieces that should have been there - why the heroine and hero make self-defeating relational choices, how the villains manage to commit so much mayhem, why brothers, mothers, and grandmothers keep the secrets they do - are absent. It's as if Ms. Dodd knew her story so well, she neglected to share all of it with her readers.
Secrets of Bella Terra is the first of a series featuring the DiLuca brothers. The three men share the same father and are connected to the family’s vineyards and famous resort Bella Terra. As the book begins, the matriarch of the DiLuca family — Nonna - is brutally attacked in her home. Her three grandsons as well as the novel's heroine, Brooke Peterson (an old family friend who is now the manager of Bella Terra), rush to her side. Two of the grandsons, Eli and Noah, live at Bella Terra, but Rafe - this tale's main male — is a globe-trotter who runs a quasi-military security firm with offices all over the world. Rafe and Brooke share a long history and, from the moment the two meet again in Nonna's hospital room, they are enmeshed in their complex feelings for one another.
It's not a spoiler to say Rafe and Brooke are the great loves of each others' lives. They were lovers in high school and again in their early 20's. It's clear they belong together. It's not so clear why they are apart. Brooke and Rafe spend much of the book telling themselves they can't be together, even though they are sharing kisses from the moment they are again first alone. They constantly fantasize about each other but don't make love until more than half-way through the book, and even then, it's for solace rather than because they're soul-mates. (That doesn't stop it, however, from being smoking hot.) The barriers to their romance are too briefly explained and the path to their HEA seems facile rather than fated.
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