The Secret Life of Connor Monahan is a 2001 Harlequin Desire by Elizabeth Bevarly. It’s also available in an illustrated and presumably condensed version from Harlequin comics, something I have not seen before.The plot is a variation of the French Lieutenant’s Woman plot (man is attracted to fallen woman, who he can have sex with but cannot love or marry, only to discover she is a virgin, and therefore was suitable for love and marriage until he ruined her.) In this case, the man, Connor, is an undercover police officer. He’s investigating a prostitution ring that appears to be running out of a restaurant, and he assumes the owner, Winona, is the madam, and a former prostitute. It doesn’t help his assumptions that the restaurant is decorated like a bordello, features phones on the tables to encourage communications between different tables, and that Winona’s fondness for the Victoria era includes elaborate and old-fashioned dress.
The phones on the table is an odd gimmick, more appropriate for a singles bar (circa 1990s) than a fancy restaurant, and not in keeping with Winona’s usual preference for genteel behaviour. The phones are one of several odd items that show up for narrative convenience, and require great suspension of disbelief. As the story opens, the local police force has been watching the restaurant for three weeks – a significant amount of resources to investigate possible prostitution. Mid-story, we learn that Conner has been watching the restaurant, and Winona’s apartment above, yet never noticed she had a small balcony off her bedroom. And late in the story a twin brother pops up, as part of a series of coincidences. This is also one of those stories where the couple are immediately attracted to each other, and of course the sex is amazing.
The coincidences and inconsistencies keep the story light, and remind the reader not to take any of it too seriously. Connor’s assumptions and Winona’s naivete lead to some amusing conversations. He soon learns the truth about her, and the romantic tension before and after his awareness is steamy, though relatively generic, and resolved well before the end of the story. That just leaves the question of whether or not there is a prostitution ring, and how Winona will react when she learns who Connor is. For these to be questions, Winona has to be both unaware of what is happening in her restaurant, and never ask Connor what he does for a living.
That she never asks him underscores how little she knows about him, which is not ideal for a long term relationship. When she does find out, the quick and easy resolution is disappointing. Am I cruel to point out that these characters did not suffer enough? Or just forgetting that the story has been light from the beginning? Is it petty of me to point out that Connor does not actually have secret life? Probably. The title may be misleading, but at least it’s neither generic nor too specific.
I always enjoy witty dialogue. Winona is relatively independent, older than Connor, not a virgin (barely), and somewhat feisty, and these are all points in the book’s favour. As long as you don’t take it too seriously – and that’s hard to do – this is a fine book to accompany a bubble bath.