Underground (Secrets #2) by T.R. Graves
Release date: October 13, 2013
Age Group: New Adult
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Betrayal and loss have changed Emily Riddle in ways she never thought possible. With a death wish guiding her every move, she’s willing to compromise her morals, ethics, and instincts to bring to justice the men who’ve broken her heart… even if that means living a life underground, being someone she’s not, and pretending to respect the very men she’s positioning herself to take down.
As soon as she teams up with the district attorney, Tope Bryson, and agrees to be a member of his covert operation, she returns to the commune and convinces the patriarchal leaders she is the most qualified person to take on roles traditionally assigned to men. Desperate and without options, Owen, the commune’s leader and Emily’s father, agrees to a temporary change.
Emily takes full advantage of the opportunity and quickly proves to him, much to her brothers’ dismay, that he can’t live without having her in those critical roles and that she may be the best candidate for his next in command.
She and Tope quickly realize that the men of the commune consider a woman who threatens the good ol’ boy system that’s been in place for decades public enemy number one. Determined to protect Emily from her brothers, Tope plants an undercover officer and charismatic law student, Noah Babineaux, in the commune. Neither Tope nor Emily is prepared for the attention Noah pays her.
With a nothing-else-matters attitude, Emily focuses on her underground mission and pushes down her hate, anger, grief, and… blossoming feelings until they threaten to explode from the inside and tear her apart. It’s a race against the clock to get the evidence necessary—and ultimately, the retaliation Emily craves—before a life of submissive brutality, or sibling jealousy, kills her.
Published March 1, 2013
Grave Bound (Secrets # 1)
Emily Riddle has lived her entire life inside a patriarchal commune led by her father. There are many rules, but the most important one, ‘keep it in the commune’, is the most difficult for her to follow… especially since the only people willing to champion her cause live on the outside.
When Emily learns her father has promised her to Lorenzo, a perverted man who has plans for her that extend well beyond marriage and kids, she rebels. Regardless of the consequences, she refuses to marry someone who’d rather beat her than caress her.
A day of hooky that starts out as a tiny act of defiance – sneaking out of the commune for a swim – turns into a day filled with hope. After spending time with Levi, a man camping near the lake, she finds what true romance looks like and catches a glimpse into a future that’s filled with love and admiration rather than hate and submission.
That tiny peek is enough to change the course of Emily’s existence and makes it nearly impossible for her to go back to the commune and pretend she’ll ever be able to tolerate the life chosen for her instead of the life she longs for. One that includes Levi.
Fighting to escape the commune, its leaders, and her fiancé proves to be more dangerous than Emily expected. The secrets she knows, as the leader’s daughter, will either follow her to the grave or send her – and Levi – there.
“Wow!” was my immediate reaction after finishing Grave Bound. This beautifully written, stirring, and bittersweet love story wrapped me up in such a turmoil of feelings: shock, outrage, pity, frustration, hope, dread, and sadness that I was emotionally exhausted by the end, yet still ready for more of the dramatic story that awaits in Underground.
The plot is built around a commune from hell, a patriarchal society that resembles a mafia organization heavily involved in criminal activity, and one that devalues and demeans women in every area of their lives. Women are treated as possessions to be owned, used, abused, and discarded whenever a man chooses. The pacing in the first part of the book is much slower compared to the second half which is filled with intense dramatic action, danger, and despair that consumed my attention and led to an astonishing cliff-hanger ending that left me feeling overwhelmed.
Graves spends a lot of time early on describing and explaining life in the commune from nineteen-year-old Emily Riddle’s perspective. Emily’s father, Owen, is the leader of this community, and as part of his family, she has personally witnessed the ruthlessness and level of brutality these men are capable of doling out to anyone who threatens their way of life. As a reader, I needed the detail from Emily’s observations, insights, and flashbacks in order to wrap my mind around the cruelty, violence, and injustice woven into the fabric of this insular group.
The women are isolated from the outside world, treated as slaves, and severely beaten if they say or do anything that might indicate disrespect to any of the men. Leaving the commune is not an option. Owen and his men have the power and the resources to track down and punish anyone who tries to escape. By the time the action picks up and the danger increases, I truly understand and believe Emily’s fears and predictions are real and justified.
Emily has been brought up to be subservient, to passively accept the abuse she experiences, but she also recognizes the injustice occurring around her and secretly disagrees with the dominant mindset of The Community. Emily has been fortunate enough to receive more education than many others in the commune due to her Aunt Tess’s influence although she never receives any formal schooling. However, I don’t think Emily has ever really considered her future and her options until she learns that Owen has promised her to Lorenzo, a man she despises and knows will make her life a living hell. The news of her father’s betrayal is the catalyst that motivates Emily to boldly lie and sneak out of the commune to enjoy a brief bit of freedom. With her father and most of the men away for three months on “business,” she takes advantage of the opportunity to temporarily escape her oppressive life.
While out alone, swimming, she meets two “outsiders” Levi and Tope who will change the course of her life. Emily accidentally meets Levi first, and the level of attraction between them is instantaneous, and although neither of them understands the intense level of chemistry between them, they are mesmerized by the hold they have on each other:
Emily: “With Levi’s nearness, an emotion-a longing I’ve never expected or experienced-bubbles to the surface. I want to be more to this man than a servant or a housekeeper. As if magical, Levi’s stunning small and tender handshake instigate a sense of belonging within me that warms me all over and makes me want to follow him to the ends of the earth.”
Levi: “When I finally see her eyes-those rich-chocolate eyes-I know I can never get enough of them. Of her. Something deep inside me is awakened. Whatever feelings I’m having go beyond physical attraction, but that’s there too. I’m so drawn to her, if I were a lesser man, I’d have her pinned between me and the tree, kissing her breathless. This woman makes me want to write poetry worshiping her, build monuments in her name, and dare other men to look upon her.”
Levi is out camping with his cousin, Tope, the local DA whose main mission is to gather enough evidence to bring the leaders of the commune to justice. Through a secret connection with Emily’s Aunt Tess, Tope has learned much about Emily and communal life. He already knows of Emily’s impending forced marriage to Lorenzo, and he is in the process of planning to rescue Emily even though she and Levi are initially unaware of this.
The time Emily and Levi spend together is limited, and even though it seems like “insta-love,” the passion and tenderness between them moves me, especially after Levi expresses his sentiments toward Emily: “The day I met you is the day by which all others will be measured.” At this point, I want them to be together, to have the opportunity to allow those feelings to grow.
At the same time, I also feel bad for Tope, who seems to have fallen for Emily as well just based on what he’s heard about her and their limited interactions. However, Tope loves and respects his cousin, Levi, so he steps aside and does what he can to help them be together, even though he clearly isn’t happy about it.
The one weekend Emily spends with Tope and Levi pushes her to finally acknowledge her “true self” who can no longer remain silent, chaste, and subservient:
“I’ve always been comfortable being by myself. Now that I’ve spent just a few hours with Levi, I realize a lifetime of dead-inside-isolation is not the future I want. He’s awakened something in me that can never be put back to sleep.”
From this point on, the tension builds as Lorenzo grows tired of waiting for Emily and begins to force himself upon her as is his right as her future husband. Emily becomes more and more desperate to escape her life so she can build a future with Levi,
and Tope is secretly working to keep Emily, Levi, and Tess safe until they can get the evidence needed for arrests. However, time is running out, forcing both Emily and Levi make choices that leave me biting my nails and shaking my head, and fearing the worst.
I received a copy of this book from the author for an honest review.
The author of Warrior, Secret, and Still Standing series—currently available—and Moral Dilemma and Underwater series—to be released in 2013/2014.
She lives in Texas with her husband, their nineteen-year-old daughter, and nine-year-old son. Besides being blessed with a supportive family, she counts her career as an administrator and registered nurse in not-for-profit hospitals among her most fulfilling accomplishments.
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