Reviewed by Tori
Favorite Quote: “I cease to exist unless I’m with you.“
Bobby Baker, the hometown golden boy, has always loved his Belle, the girl from the wrong side of the tracks. The night before he leaves for basic training, he assures Belle of his love and promises her he will come for her in a few months when she turns eighteen. Bobby finds his convictions tested in basic training and in a single moment, destroys his and Belle’s dreams when he sends her a “Dear John” letter, claiming he’s not ready to settle down. He soon regrets sending the letter, but Belle disappeared after she read it and he was never able to find her and beg her forgiveness.
Now, fifteen years later, Bobby is shocked and thrilled to see his Belle is the ATF agent that his black ops team will be working with to locate and destroy a mexican drug lord who is funneling weapons through the US. Bobby wants to apologize and work towards a reconciliation but Belle is not the same as she was fifteen years ago. Heartache and secrets have hardened Belle’s heart; especially to the man who shattered it so long ago. Bobby isn’t ready to give up though. He knows he and Belle belong together and plans to use every trick he ever learned in the military to make her forgive him. But when Bobby finds out about Belle’s biggest secret, he’s not sure he can forgive her.
I love second chance romances, especially when there is some serious groveling involved. Jessie Lane provides both in her romantic contemporary, Secret Maneuvers. A familiar romantic story that is elevated by the well developed characters, witty dialogue, and the injection of a suspenseful plot line. Secret Maneuvers brings us a healthy dose of love, regret, heartbreak, and second chances. Smooth pacing with a viable storyline that places you directly into the lives of our protagonists. In here we meet two people who, once loved each other madly, try to deal with all their unresolved issues when they come face to face fifteen years later. The characters are delightfully flawed and realistic. The story line is written in a smooth and enjoyable conversational style with an emotional realism as some of her characters react and engage as you or I might. I enjoyed the fact that the reader experienced alternating POVs. It’s always more interesting to me to watch (or read in this case) the same scene told by two different people.
Our hero Bobby is a good old southern boy who’s a genuinely nice guy. Working as part of a secret CIA black ops team, he is intelligent, loyal, honest and trained to achieve the impossible. He isn’t blind to his flaws and readily owns up to his mistakes. Though he has gone on with his life, he never stopped looking for or loving Belle. His thoughts always circle back to Belle and you never once doubt that the love he feels for her is real. I enjoyed meeting him. His dialogue is both funny and sad as he struggles with trying to receive Belle’s forgiveness…and his own.
“I had no intentions of giving up this time. Belle was my woman. The other half of my soul. An intricate part of me that had felt lost for far too long.”
Annabelle was a bit harder to connect with. We are introduced to her slowly and unlike Bobby, she has more layers to peel back. She is still hurt and angry with Bobby over what he did to her and justifiably so. I completely understood her feelings and her fears about letting him back into her life. When he sent that letter, it broke her and reinforced the bad girl/trailer trash image she had of herself.
“With my shitty luck in life, I should have expected this sooner or later. Who would want to settle down with the town’s trailer trash. Certainly not a respectable boy like Bobby Baker.”
As Bobby and Belle begin to slowly and painfully reconnect, you know instantly that the chemistry still burns hot but there is a lot they need to resolve. They antagonize each other from the get go. They start out on opposite sides of the battlefield as Bobby tries to talk to Belle and Belle won’t have anything to do with him. Every time they interacted, I expected to hear a bell and that really tall tux wearing dude to step out saying, “Let’s get ready to ruuuuuuuuuuuuummmmmmmmmmmmmbbbbllllleeeeeee!”
We aren’t given an easy fix to their relationship. Especially when Belle’s secret is revealed. These characters have to work hard to repair the damage to their hearts. You can feel the anger, resentment, confusion, and hurt rolling off of them. Pride is a huge obstacle they both need to learn to set aside. The emotional baggage that Belle carries needs to be addressed and Lane does a great job of it even though I felt Belle held on too long to her animosity. I will be honest and say I wasn’t pleased with Belle’s secret. It’s not a favorite trope of mine and I thought her reasons stemmed more from revenge and anger. I was happy to see some very valid emotions come from Bobby when he learns of Belle’s secret. It’s painful at times as you watch these two struggle to learn about each other all over again and find a way to forgive each other and themselves.
“Love was a joke. A fairytale that mother’s told their daughters while tucking them into bed at night just before the man they swore was their Prince Charming knocked the living shit out of them because supper was cold.”
We meet some delightful secondary characters that all play a large roll in Belle and Bobby’s lives and leave enough open for stories of their own. The Sullivan brothers offer comedic commentary while Bobby’s commander steps in with some humorous advice to help Bobby see things he’s missing in his quest for Belle’s heart. Boyd, Belle’s partner, has her back always and gives Belle the truth whether she wants to hear it or not. The intertwining suspense plot is action packed and satisfying without overpowering the main story arc. The ending wraps everything up and assures us that our couple comes to terms with the past and look towards the future.
“I’m just an ordinary man, but you make me feel like I’m the strongest man in the world. I’m not worthy of the gift of your love, but I promise to work each and every day to become worthy of it.”
By the way…Jessie Lane is having a HUGE giveaway on their blog .