Bailey, Tessa. Secretly Yours. Avon 2023. 284 pp. ISBN 9780063238985. $16.99
Gardener Hallie is sort of a hot mess: indecisive, disorganized, and lives life out loud with her three! dogs. Still grieving from the loss of her beloved grandmother Rebecca, which whom she spent many hours sipping wine at wine store/bar Corked, owned by her grandmother’s best friend, Hallie has made it a personal mission of sorts to take down Corked’s their slick new competitor, Uncorked. When she hears that a local vintner’s son, the nerd-hot guy she had a crush on–and almost had a moment with–in high school is back in town, she invents an excuse to do some landscaping for his rental. Now a professor on sabbatical back home to write a novel, Julian is Hallie’s opposite: in control, buttoned up, decisive… and hiding a lot of anxiety. His attraction to her chaos is instantaneous but he doesn’t remember her. She (drunkenly) writes him a secret admirer note one evening and leaves where he will find in on his morning jog. Mortified, she decides not to say anything, but of course he hopes it’s from her, even as he recognizes she is not his type. Or is she just what he needs?
This raunchy romp has several laugh-out-loud moments of making fun of Napa hipster culture and pranks. Characters could have come off as stereotypes or one dimensional (the ditz, the grandmotherly type, the bad-girl, the geek) but depth and nuance is added as the protagonists work through the various ways they think they have disappointed their loved ones.
Secret Admirer is also rich in multigenerational female relationships; Hallie bonds with Julian’s sister immediately upon meeting and maintains relationships with other local business women who are also larger than life.
The undercurrent of sexual tension, fantasies, and consummation is richly detailed; it turns out Julian is a talker (it surprises him, too). The narrative is delightfully, consensually filthy but it’s Julian’s ongoing desire to keep Hallie smiling that is the heart of the novel.
I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #SecretAdmirer from #NetGalley.