Rating: 4.25 stars
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Rafe Colman’s life is mostly an illusion. His coworkers see him as smooth and successful, a handsome ladies’ man, someone confident and polished and in control. In reality Rafe is hiding most of himself, living in fear of anyone knowing his secrets, both about his past and his inner desires.
Being Austrian in America 10 years after World War II means that Rafe faces a lot of prejudice from those who assume he is a German sympathizer. When Rafe’s house is vandalized, he meets police officer Ben Morgan. Although Ben’s partner thinks the case isn’t worth their time, Ben immediately connects with Rafe and is determined to find out who is threatening him. Something about Rafe just calls to Ben, and he senses that they share a secret that neither man can feel safe talking about. When Rafe is violently attacked, Ben can’t help but want to take care of the man. Slowly the two get to know one another and finally get up the nerve to admit their mutual attraction.
But things still aren’t easy. Rafe and Ben have to hide their relationship from everyone. Even the hint of being gay on the police force could mean the end of Ben’s job (or even his life). Both men must continue the illusion of dating women and must closely guard their secrets. And Ben’s patrol partner is becoming increasingly suspicious, making comments to Ben that indicate he senses their true feelings. Rafe and Ben are falling for one another, but at the same time they must find a way to protect themselves and their secrets before things fall apart.
Secret Light is a sweet story set in 1955 that really highlights the dual lives so many people had to live at that time. Rafe and Ben both have their public selves where they put on apearances to ensure no one suspects their true feelings. We see this most clearly with Rafe who has created a whole persona that everyone believes. His motto at his realty company is that he can sell anything, and that is exactly what he does — sell an image of himself that everyone believes. He never even dares to dream for more than the life he has. With his complicated past, not to mention his unacceptable sexual desires, Rafe has never even attempted a relationship or intimacy with someone. When Ben comes along, at first Rafe is terrified of letting someone in. But soon Ben breaks through that wall, especially when it becomes clear they share their biggest secret. I think Maxfield does a wonderful job here showing the dual life that these men lead, and how even the slightest suspicion can put their very lives at risk. They can’t see each other openly or do anything to indicate they have feelings for one another. We can real feel for them as they try to find some balance between their safety and their happiness.
I loved the build of their relationship, as Ben slowly leads Rafe along. Rafe has never allowed himself intimacy with anyone, man or woman, and both a personal and physical relationship is totally new to him. The men are so sweet and loving together. It is clear right from the start how much comfort they draw from one another and I loved the way they bond so quickly and help give each other strength. This is a quiet story, and things develop slowly and sweetly, despite the threats these guys face. At times the pace felt a little slow to me, but I also think the tone completely works for both these men and the story.
My only real complaint is that I felt the resolution to the conflict with Ben’s partner came a bit too quickly and neatly. We get a lot of build up of how the man is increasingly suspicious and how he could threaten both Rafe and Ben. Then suddenly things are resolved quite neatly and I felt perhaps too quickly given the buildup. I was intrigued by the sense of guilt and responsibility Ben feels and would have been interested to see that develop further, but again it seemed to resolve fairly fast. So I guess I would have liked a bit more balance to go with all the build up here.
Overall I think this was a very sweet and romantic story. Maxfield does a great job of really capturing the feel of the time period, in lots of little details from the dress, to the language, to the ways the people interact with one another. It feels very true to the 1950s and adds to our sense of the risk these men face during this time period. I really enjoyed Rafe and Ben together and think the story really does a nice job of highlighting the dual lives they live, especially for Rafe. I appreciated that things don’t suddenly turn out perfectly. Although I saw these guys with an HEA, clearly it is not all smooth sailing going forward and they will continue to have to hide their relationship. But I could also feel confident in their love for each other and the strength each man gets from being with the one he loves. Really nice story.