Good Shit vs. Shit to Avoid: Secret Romance

Bitchery reader M. wrote in and asked for a specific type of romance, and alas, I drew a blank at helping her out. I did name a few titles, though I won’t mention them here because the secret is part of the plot twist in most of them, but I figured the Bitchery knows all.

M. writes:

I’m obsessed with a specific type of romance, and someone said you might be able to help. I’ve looked at the AAR Special Title Listings page, which is so awesome, but they don’t seem to have the dynamic I’m looking for.

I am looking for romances wherein the relationship between the protagonists is a secret from everyone, sometimes even the reader. I’m over-tired of romances where he meets her, and boom, that’s it, thanks for coming and have a safe drive home, if you know what I mean. Maybe the forces of Luuuuuurve™ did hit him or her like a pile of bricks but I adore plots that keep that relationship a secret, and seeing how the couple manage to be together. Can you help?

So – anyone got any ideas? And am I the only one with Atlantic Starr stuck in her head? No? Just me? Crap.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Lori says:

    Sadly, not just you.  I’m now going to have that song stuck in my head for hours.

  2. 2
    Duck says:

    Aren’t most romances like that?? Where the romance is kept secret from family/friends until the very end?

    Anyway, two that come to mind immediately are “Romancing Mr. Bridgerton” by Julia Quinn, and “Irresistible” by Mary Balogh (which I just finished, and loved, by the way).

  3. 3
    Mad says:

    TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS by Megan Hart & Lauren Dane…one of the couples in the book had a secret relationship that was hidden from friends and family until almost the end of the book.

  4. 4
    SonomaLass says:

    I recently read Pam Rosenthal’s Almost a Gentleman; since the heroine is living in London society in disguise as a man, the main romance has to be kept a secret.  It’s not a great secret, because they tell everyone they trust, but they are unable to be openly together.  That doesn’t begin to cover the complexity of the plot, because there are lots of other things working to keep them apart, including some serious trust issues.

  5. 5
    kittyfischer says:

    Try Mary Stewart—Touch Not the Cat and The Ivy Tree.

  6. 6
    Amelia says:

    I’m going to recommend Mistress of the Art of Death and the sequels, by Ariana Franklin, even though they’re not technically romance (they’re mysteries).  And I can’t even talk about why it’s so awesome because that would give away the delight of discovering the awesomeness!

    Srsly, I cannot rave enough about this book.

  7. 7
    Amanda says:

    Eloisa James rarely has straightforward hero-meets-heroine-and-must make-her-his stories.

    Her Essex sisters quartet starts out with Much Ado About You and the h/h start out not even liking one another particularly. And the third book Taming of the Duke has a relationship between the h/h that is kept secret from just about everyone. Also the fourth book Pleasure for Pleasure’s secondary couple keep their relationship a secret from everyone until the very end as well.

    Though many of her books do feature married but estranged couples, there always seems to be some element of secrecy surrounding the unmarried ones. Might be due to her background as a Shakespeare scholar. There is certainly a lot of that sort of thing in Renaissance drama.

  8. 8
    MichelleR says:

    Just piping in to say that, yes, the song is stuck in my head.

    …‘cause what we feel … is oh so real! (So real, so real!)

  9. 9
    Lori says:

    Aren’t most romances like that?? Where the romance is kept secret from family/friends until the very end?

    Huh, I wonder if the secret couple is more common in certain genres than others, because I hardly ever run into it.  I read plenty of books where the couple has the “insta lurve” and goes from strangers to engaged so fast they hardly have time to mention the “relationship” to anyone.  I’ve also run into quite a few books where the h/h don’t have any visible family or friends so there’s no one to tell. However, I’ve rarely read a plot that has the couple actively hiding the relationship.

    And that stupid song is still stuck in my head.  I may soon have to resort to the George of the Jungle theme to banish it.

  10. 10
    Throwmearope says:

    The Tollgate by Georgette Heyer is my favorite version of the romance that could not be announced.  Touch Not the Cat is great too—I’ll second that one.

  11. 11
    Throwmearope says:

    Ooh, and what about, Me and Mrs. Jo-ooo-oooo-nes, there’s another mind worm for you if you’re, er, well, less than young.

  12. 12
    Lori says:

    It’s been a long time since I read Touch Not the Cat,but isn’t the deal in that one that half of the couple doesn’t know? The heroine has a psychic connected to someone, but doesn’t know who it is until most of the way through the book? Or am I thinking of the wrong Mary Stewart book?

  13. 13
    Peaches says:

    The relationship is secret from the protagonists?…you mean, the protagonists that are in the relationship? What?

    In The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt, the heroine disguises herself so the hero doesn’t realize it’s her he’s been sleeping with for a good while, if that helps

  14. 14
    Harlequin says:

    In the legendary Nora Roberts’ book Homeport, the hero and heroine keep their romance a secret from a lot of people – for various reasons including him being a professional art thief.

    Sigh. Ryan Boldari. Sigh.

  15. 15
    corrine says:

    After the Kiss by Suzanne Enoch – he’s a bastard horse trainer, she’s an earl’s daughter, their love, it cannot be.

    Lady Rogue by Suzanne Enoch – the heroine masquerades in society as the hero’s male cousin, but behind closed doors, they become lovers.

  16. 16
    Throwmearope says:

    To Lori,

    Yeah, Touch Not the Cat has the psychic cousins and the heroine can’t figure out which cousin she’s in love with.  Fortunately, distant enough not to bother my Darwinist soul.

  17. 17
    Lori says:

    @Throwmearope: Thanks for confirming my memory. 

    @Peaches: Yes, the heroine doesn’t know who the hero is until almost the end of the book.  I swear it made perfect sense, but I can’t explain it in too much detail with out giving away the ending. I used to read my mom’s Stewarts and I seem to recall that being one of my favorites.

  18. 18

    I’ll add my vote for Touch Not the Cat and The Ivy Tree, and throw in My Lord Monleigh by Jan Cox Speas—one of my favourite books of all time. Not easy to find, but worth the effort.

  19. 19
    JewelTones says:

    Mystery Lover by Annette Broadrick (Silhouette Romance #533, 1987) instantly sprang to mind when I read this.  If I recall the story correctly, Jennifer loses her father in an accident when she’s very young (5 or so) and winds up in telepathic communication with a boy older than herself.  She’s never met him and the relationship continues until she’s in her early 20s.  Her feelings are mixed up about him, of course, but the story starts off with them basically already in love without even knowing who the other really is.  The “mystery” of who he is is lifted when he’s kidnapped and forced to call to her for help to come to his rescue.  That’s when they come face to face. 

    Man.  I haven’t thought about that book in ages.  I think I even have a copy of it sitting on a dusty bookshelf.  :)  I’m going to have to dig that one out along with my copy of Touch Not the Cat.


  20. 20
    Melissandre says:

    I’ll second Elizabeth Hoyt.  The Leopard Prince is about a woman of the nobility who has a romance with her land steward.  They start of being discreet, but…stuff happens.  The first half of Shattered Rainbows by Mary Jo Putney has a heartbreaking secret/forbidden love, but the back half of the book is pretty formulaic.  Still worth checking out, I think.

    You might also like a few of the Goddess Summoning books by P.C. Cast.  In a lot of them, the hero or heroine disguises their true nature from their partner; one partner is either secretly a mortal or secretly immortal trying to make it with someone who’s not.  In that series, Goddess of Spring, Goddess of Light, and Warrior Rising come to mind.  In all three, there is tension when the true identity is revealed, and a struggle to make the uneven relationship work.

  21. 21
    Marie says:

    I’ll put in a plug for one of my super-fluffy favorites, Educating Caroline by Patricia Cabot.

    The (Victorian) heroine knows her fiance is cheating… the hero knows his fiancee is cheating… she is keeping the fact that her fiance is cheating with his fiancee secret from the hero so he won’t kill her fiance… they start falling in love… and they keep it a secret from everyone, including their respective fiancees and families.  The subplot also involves secrets, so it’s a secret-fest all around. Yummy.

  22. 22
    Carin says:

    Oooo!  I second the rec for Educating Caroline.  I love that book!

    I recently read The Courtesan’s Wager by Claudia Dain.  It has a secret relationship that is revealed (to the reader) half way through the book.  That kind of annoyed me, but may be interesting for secret lovers. (or, ah, lovers of secrets)

  23. 23
    jenny says:

    Secret Obsession PRINT” by Leigh Wyndfield
    The protagonists are on a fairly small island, so the small town feel is amplified – everyone thinks they know everyone else’s business.

  24. 24
    darlynne says:

    Good one, kittyfischer. The Ivy Tree is a perfect recommendation.

  25. 25
    ghn says:

    Cordelia and Aral in Lois McMaster Bujold’s _Shards of Honor_ are certainly reticent about the fact that they are absolutely head-over-heels – they seem to want to keep that fact secret even from themselves. They _do_ eventually admit it, though.
    The romantic couple in the follow-up book – _Barrayar_ – is as reticent about their attraction – though for different reasons. They are not the protagonists, though. We see their romance from the outside, from Cordelia’s viewpoint – who at one point acts as “Baba” (a professional matchmaker – though a very unconventional one!).

    Bujold’s books have a hefty amount of romance in them, though they are all labeled SF or Fantasy. And the romance aspects are often deliciously unconventional.
    For some reason, a small quip from _Barrayar_ popped into my mind; an answer to a comment from a person whose intent was to cause trouble in the marriage between the main character and her husband: “He _was_ bisexual, now he is monogamous.”

  26. 26
    lilywhite says:

    Sadly, not just you.  I’m now going to have that song stuck in my head for hours.

    Yeah, thanks for nothing, Bitches.

    (weeks47:  it will be stuck in my head for 47 weeks.)

  27. 27
    Lori says:

    @lilywhite: If you’re really desperate to get rid of it any earworm can be replaced by George of the Jungle.

    In case of emergency go here:

  28. 28
    Bonnie says:

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned the latest Su.Zanne Broc.Kmann offering (Dar.K of Ni.Ght) … like *nobody* saw any of *those* pairings taking place, even through five books of hints …

    [snide snickering]

    Hm. Code word is right94. Guess the readers are right 94% of the time, or is that the author …

  29. 29
    Liz says:

    I love those types of romances although I’ve only ever seen them on television.  Season 5 of Friends is my absolute favorite!

    As for the song, I had That Thing You Do stuck in my head for 2 1/2 months in 1999-2000.  Love the movie, but the song drove me crazy.  Speaking of which, I’m watching Angels Fall on Lifetime, and just realized that Brody is Jimmy from That Thing You Do.

  30. 30
    Polly says:

    I can’t think of too many good secret love books, though now that I’m considering the matter, I really want to read some—especially the variety where the reader doesn’t know what’s going on.  I think if it was plotted and executed well, it could make a heist story out of a romance, which would be kind of fabulous (I love the ah ha moments of good heist movies, when suddenly everything falls into place—how cool would that be in a romance?).

    It’s not really a romance, I suppose, but Megan Whalen Turner’s trilogy (the Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and the King of Attolia) are really well plotted and have wonderful reveals, relationship-y and action-y, that surprised me in the best ways.

    And in my opinion, the hands-down best reveal/declaration of love to a character who didn’t suspect it, is by Dorothy Dunnett, in Checkmate. It’s the final book of a six book series, however, and is not really a stand-alone. But if you haven’t read it, much joy is in store.

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