Living in Secret is the third book of Jackie Ashenden’s Living In series. Typical of Ashenden, the emotional intensity is off-the-charts. But what I love about her books is that it isn’t ever just angst for angst’s sake. She’s not afraid to give her characters serious problems and genuine personality flaws. Her heroines aren’t just a little clumsy. Her heroes aren’t still mourning the girl who broke up with them in college (or, maybe they are but that’s generally the least of their problems). Her characters navigate difficulties like addiction and abuse.
In Living in Secret, Connor and Victoria are still married, barely. They’ve been separated for over a year, the result of distance created by not ever being completely honest with one another. They’re each keeping a big secret that has allowed them the emotional distance they need to cope with life, but unfortunately also took a toll on their marriage.
This distance has also manifested in their sex life, which has been active, but hardly passionate. They need a dramatic break-through and one is provided via a friend of the previous book’s hero: a threesome resets Connor and Victoria’s expectations and opens the door to a week’s worth of uninhibited sexual exploration. The physical intimacy the characters experience also breaks down their emotional barriers and eventually brings them back together.
I wrote a few weeks ago about the cleansing power of confession in romance and in life as it relates to this book so I don’t need to go into all that again in detail here, but this is a powerfully redemptive story and will be a satisfying read for any fan of the marriage-in-trouble trope. And I’m not giving anything away when I say that any lover of erotic romance will also find lots of things to love about Living in Secret. It’s crazy hot. I’ve been a fan of Ashenden for while, but she has really come into her own with this series. Every book has been everything I love about how romance can be. I can only hope Connor and Victoria’s threesome partner in this book eventually gets one of his own. Though he seems curiously well-adjusted for an Ashenden hero. Maybe we’ll get to see something new from her? Or maybe he has secrets of his own… I hope we get to find out.
I’ve had a long-running less-than-serious gripe about Jackie Ashenden’s books. She doesn’t feed her characters. Like, ever. Oh, she’ll let them order food. Or go in search of food. Or pull food out of the fridge. But before they have a chance to eat it, they always fight. Or have sex. Or have sex and then fight. It’s a thing.
So when Connor and Victoria actually sit down at a table and eat lamb tagine, I knew it would be an important moment. And whoo boy. It was a doozie. I’m not giving spoilers because it’s a relatively new book, but, yeah. It’s crucial. And it happens over food. I was pretty excited.
I love making up recipes, tweaking food until it’s just perfect. But sometimes it’s nice to just cook.
I’d never made anything like this lamb tagine before so I pulled up a recipe online and just made that using a leg of lamb I had my butcher carve off the bone and cut into chunks for me. Having a real butcher nearby is great. Not only was he willing to do a little bit of the prep work, he also used a bone saw to cut the bone in half. I then boiled it and made lamb stock for my freezer.
I think if I made this recipe again, I’d tweak it a little, mainly because the long cooking time mellows out the flavors more than seemed appropriate. I’d jack up the cayenne for sure. And maybe try it out in the crockpot instead of marinating it overnight. If I do, I’ll add a note here in the future.
But, like I said, sometimes it’s nice to just cook.