Secretly Yours by Tessa Bailey
It’s that time of year again. It’s the time when we think about hearts, and flowers, and writing soul-baring secret admirer letters to crushes that we’ve been pining over for 15 years. Well, maybe not that last one unless you’re gardener Hallie Welch and said crush is Ivy-League school professor Julian Vos who’s just come back to his childhood home for a break to write a novel.
Secretly Yours (Avon Books) by Tessa Bailey is the first of her A Vine Mess series and is set in Napa Valley in the present day: after the horrendous wildfire that happened there a few years ago and the COVID-19 pandemic. Hallie’s a gardener that has inherited her grandmother’s business since she passed away a few months ago. Julian’s mother, Vos Vineyard owner Corinne Vos, has hired Hallie to revamp the landscape around her guest house — the house that Julian is staying in while he writes his magnum opus.
While Hallie is ecstatic about seeing Julian again — and still crushing on him, Julian has no idea who Hallie is. But he is downright obsessed with her: her frayed small shorts, her knees in the dirt, and her aggravating habit of being late to everything. For Julian, who has an anxiety disorder, he’s developed habits and has his day planned out in blocks of time to combat any anxiety attacks. His writing blocks must be silent solo endeavors. He can’t have a woman riding up in an old truck on his property with three barking, slobbering dogs to plant some unnecessary flowers.
But when they meet, sparks fly, and so do the insults. This grumpy x sunshine novel is full of flying jabs and fiery banter. In fact, the whole town is rather quick-witted, especially Hallie’s British BFF Lavinia. Hallie and Julian start off as a low-angst pair that butt heads, but when Julian receives a letter from a secret admirer, the angst ramps up between the two. Hallie wrote and sent the letter on one drunken night, but now, she can’t stop, finding a catharsis in writing secretly to Julian.
Though these main characters get into a lot of fun, sometimes criminal antics (usually Hallie gets into the antics while Julian attempts to get her out of them), they aren’t merely because they’re fun people who live on the edge. Hallie’s a mess when we meet her: she’s grieving her grandmother’s loss and taking it out on a wine store that’s trying to edge out her grandmother’s best friend’s competing wine shop. Hallie’s grandmother was the one stable force in her life that helped keep her mess in check, and with that stable force gone, Hallie has ratcheted up her messy behavior and avoided anything substantive and predictable.
While Julian’s anxiety disorder has been with him since he could remember, one particular severe attack of anxiety and its aftermath has remained forefront in his memory, affecting how he’s lived his life since and kept him from connecting with anyone meaningfully. When he meets Hallie, his emotions are a riotous chaos — his mind rejects everything she’s about as it’s so opposite of the order and schedule keeping he values, and yet his heart would do anything just to have her around, schedules be damned.
The letters they unknowingly pass between them start out as secret admiration, but they quickly turn into a way to confront their traumas, confide in one another about their fears and to open up and explore who they want to be. Combined with their in-person conversations, and time spent together, they form an intense and unshakable bond.
And boy, is it intense! For those who love Tessa Bailey for her hot and sexy love scenes, you will not be disappointed here. While her last duet the Bellinger Sisters series was a little tamer than what we’ve seen from Ms. Bailey, Secretly Yours is back to her steamy heat level. This is an intense slow burn for the first half of the novel, but once these two get together, it’s a full-blown fire.
Another hallmark of Ms. Bailey’s is to have main characters with “regular people jobs.” Some may feel that because the Vos family owns a vineyard, that she’s strayed from that character trope. She hasn’t. The Vos vineyard is a struggling small business in its own way and Hallie and Julian connect on that level as well, both literally getting dirty to work their businesses.
Secretly Yours delivers that trademark Valentine’s Day feeling of being drunk on love — and a few glasses of wine, swooning over letters of admiration and lots of flowers to boot.
New York Times bestselling author Tessa Bailey can solve all problems except for her own, so she focuses those efforts on stubborn, fictional blue collar men and loyal, lovable heroines. She lives on Long Island avoiding the sun and social interactions, then wonders why no one has called. Dubbed the “Michelangelo of dirty talk,” by Entertainment Weekly, Tessa writes with spice, spirit, swoon and a guaranteed happily ever after. Catch her on TikTok at @authortessabailey or check out tessabailey.com for a complete list of books.
Publish Date: February 7, 2023
Genre: Fiction, Romance
Author: Tessa Bailey
Page Count: 384 pages
Publisher: Avon Books