Release Date: September 20, 2011
Series: #5 (and final) in Angel's Bay
Author website: Barbara Freethy
Buying Info: Amazon The Book Depository
Book Blurb (from press kit):
Charlotte Adams is torn between two men. Her first love from high school, Andrew, is now a minister, following in her father’s footsteps. He wants a second chance, but she can’t imagine living her mother’s life. Joe is the compelling and charismatic chief of police, who until recently belonged to someone else. Does she want to be his second choice?
Her attempts to resolve her feelings and make peace with the secrets from her past put Charlotte in the wrong place at the wrong time. Suddenly, she is under investigation—forced to face not only an old nemesis, but also the lost dreams of her youth. And with love, marriage, family and friendships all at stake, Charlotte, Joe, and Andrew must discover that the truth is best seen through the eyes of love.
Teaser: A reckless yearning filled her heart, and her mother's words echoed through her head. She didn't want to end up alone, but she did have a problem giving up control. Wasn't that the reason she'd dashed up the stairs at the manor? Because she'd been afraid that she wouldn't be able to control the situation?
Reading "Garden of Secrets" reminded me at times of the seventies song, "Torn Between Two Lovers" - like the singer, Charlotte loves both men and has a hard time choosing between them. Unlike the singer, she's not actually involved with both men, partly because she doesn't think it's the right thing to do and partly because she's scared and uncertain. One man, Andrew, was her first love but things ended badly between them. Now, he's a minister at the church where her father, now dead, was the minister. The other man, Joe, is the town's police chief and getting a divorce from his wife, but technically still married. She's attracted to both but also hesitant.
Charlotte has a deep need to be in control and falling in love requires letting go. She's finished with medical school, her internship and her residency so she has time now for a social life since she's no longer working 70+ hours a week, but she has trouble letting people in, including her family and friends.
Charlotte is an Ob/Gyn who returned home to Angel’s Bay over a year ago. She returned when her father died and ended up staying, living with her mother and getting a job at the local hospital. The story opens up with Charlotte reluctantly attending a fancy New Year’s Eve party at the mayor's house. He and his wife bought the house recently and want to show it off. They're not very well liked in town but everyone wants to see their house. At midnight, Charlotte runs away from both Andrew and Joe, to avoid deciding which man to kiss, and gets caught up in an attack on the mayor's wife.
Before long, Charlotte is a suspect in the attack and subsequent jewelry theft. Joe, the police chief, believes she is innocent but proving it is another matter. The mayor is convinced she is responsible, unreasonably so at times. As you might imagine, the investigation, and Charlotte's status as a suspect don't help the relationship between them. Nor does Charlotte help herself by ignoring warnings to stay away from the mayor and his wife: she visits Theresa, the mayors wife, in the hospital; goes for an early morning run by their house after the attack; pesters their housekeeper when she shows up for an appointment with another doctor; etc.
Meanwhile, Theresa's sister Pamela has returned to town and that causes problems for both Charlotte and Andrew. Pamela was her nemesis in high school and even as an adult has the ability to make Charlotte feel gawky and awkward. It doesn't help that Pamela slept with Andrew while he was involved with Charlotte in high school and was responsible for their breakup. Pamela's back and wants to rekindle her fling with Andrew, who is only interested in Charlotte. They also share a secret past, one Andrew would rather that his parish didn't find out about.
It's all very soap opera-ish but enjoyable. Andrew and Joe both could have been fleshed out a bit more but what we saw was likable and they both seemed like people I might actually know or meet. Charlotte was more fleshed out and felt very believable, especially her difficult relationship with her mother. Despite the mayor's assertions, no one else in town seriously considers Charlotte a suspect in the attack. I admit, the mayor harping on her as a suspect never made sense, it didn't feel believable. The alleged motive he cast for her was utter crap but he was very insistent and I kept wondering where Freethy was going with it. Ultimately, nothing came of it except to conveniently cast Charlotte as a suspect and thus force her and Joe to spend more time together.
I liked both Andrew and Joe but I was rooting for Joe and Charlotte to get together, they seem a better couple to me. The qualms she has about both men were realistic and I could see the appeal each man held for her. Who gets together? Read and find out.
The mystery was so-so, but the romance was sweet and all of the characters in the book were pleasant and enjoyable. Although it's the fifth book, it works well as a stand-alone. I hadn't read the previous books and I had no difficulty following the story nor did Freethy give us the dreaded info dump. I did wonder if the previous books might have given some insight into the mayor's enmity towards Charlotte, but otherwise, reading it as a stand-alone was no problem.
A few quotes to whet your appetite:
He wondered if one of the reasons she held back from truly allowing him back into her life was that he'd taken over for her father. When she saw him, she saw her dad. When she thought of being with him, she saw her mother in her role as the minister's wife.
'Pamela.' She stopped. 'I buried her underneath some tree branches! We have to go get her.'
His hand slipped inside her panties, making her even hotter. She kicked off her jeans, impatient to be rid of her clothes and his.I received this paperback from the publisher for review.