Olly Blackwood is a generally happy guy who enjoys his job at a gourmet grocery store in Hollywood. He finds plenty of men for hookups, but now he is looking for something more lasting and real.
When Olly goes his help his friend Sandy paint her new house, he meets her surly, gruff brother Rich Willson. For some reason, Rich immediately takes a dislike to Olly and has nothing but nasty, rude things to say to him. As it turns out, Rich is dealing with a lot of his own issues, including a recent break up, a father who had nothing but disapproval for him, and the loss of his job. And something about the bright, shiny Olly just makes him crazy, enough so that Rich can’t help but lash out at the guy.
When Sandy is threatened with blackmail, Rich and Olly find themselves teaming up to try to figure out who is behind it and put a stop to it. Between that and their work on Sandy’s house, the guys are thrown together enough that they finally get to know one another better. Rich slowly comes to accept that he has feelings for Olly and that his father’s criticism has made him bury his attraction to men. Olly begins to see that there is more than Rich’s gruff exterior and that when he opens up and lets down his guard, Rich is a sweet and caring guy. Things seem to be going well for the men, but as their search for the blackmailer heats up, they may find their lives are at risk before they can ever really build anything between them.
Secrets and Charms is the second book in Harper’s Secrets series and we met Olly in the first book, Secrets and Ink. I enjoyed seeing the sweet Olly played against the more grouchy Rich, as they make an interesting contrast as the guys work toward their relationship. I mean, sometimes Olly is a bit too good to be true, but he does stand up for himself and doesn’t take Rich’s shit. But as we get to know Rich better, we realize he is a guy who has so many issues buried and he is just barely hanging on. He tried his whole life to please his domineering father and has finally realized, after his father’s death, that he will never succeed. He has always stifled what he wanted in an attempt to meet his father’s expectations and now that he has broken free of all of that, he is kind of at a loss of how to go forward. So although he is kind of a jerk at first, I liked seeing Rich find himself over the course of the story, both personally and romantically with Olly.
As with the first book, this story also adds a thriller component to the romance end, this time with the blackmailing plot. Rich and Olly play amateur sleuth in their attempts to figure out who is out to hurt Sandy. Their decisions aren’t always well advised, but I enjoyed watching them work together to solve the mystery. This isn’t hard core investigation or suspense, but there is a nice thriller element and it is a good way to get these guys together and makes for an exciting ending. I did find the ultimate “bad guy” a little over the top and out of nowhere and things resolve a bit neatly when times get desperate. But it does add a nice element to the story and keeps some nice tension over the course of the book.
I’ll also mention that we get some build up that there is this big secret Rich is hiding that caused him to leave his old job and we see his fears that it will be uncovered. When we finally get the reveal, it really doesn’t amount to much in terms of consequences, nor do we really get to see much of how it impacts Rich. So I think this part needed to be fleshed out more to have any real significance.
So overall I think this is a fun series and I am enjoying following along. The tone of these books is light and playful with some nice banter and quirky characters, which I enjoy. It blends nicely with the light suspense elements to give things a bit of edge. I enjoyed Rich and Olly here and found them sweet together. Things end with somewhat of an HFN, but I feel satisfied with where these guys are in their relationship. So overall and enjoyable story.
Cover Note: I love this cover and the way it depicts Olly’s tattoo, especially because that is one of the first things that draws Rich to him.