The Keeping a Secret Romance Trope: Romance Tropetonite

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Casey Stepaniuk

Staff Writer

Known in some internet circles as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, Casey Stepaniuk is a writer and librarian who holds an MA in English literature and an MLIS. Topics and activities dear to her heart include cats, bisexuality, libraries, queer (Canadian) literature, and drinking tea. She runs the website Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, where you can find reviews of LGBTQ+ Canadian books. She also writes a monthly column on Autostraddle recommending queer books called Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian. Find her on Twitter: @canlesbrarian, Litsy: CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian, Goodreads: CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian, and Facebook: Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian.

I recently raved about one of my favorite romance tropes, enemies to lovers. Today I’m here to talk about one of my other beloveds: the keeping a secret romance trope. This one is a little more contentious, as some readers find the ethics around keeping a secret from someone you’re dating too icky. Certainly, hiding something that could put the other person in serious danger is one thing.

But, as I think you’ll see below in my list of examples of the keeping a secret romance trope, there are a ton of legitimate, sympathetic, and fascinating reasons one (or sometimes both!) parties in a romance novel might be hiding something from one another.

I talked a bit in my last romance tropetonite post about how one reason I love enemies to lovers is that it provides a lot of fodder from believable obstacles. I guess you could call me a big fan of plausible narrative tension that propels the story along. It’s another reason why I love the keeping a secret romance trope.

Whatever the secret is, the fact of it sits heavy on the development of the relationship. Even if everything else is going really well, there’s always that pesky little secret. Once it’s revealed, the hero/ine tells themselves, surely this person will not love me anymore! This is a legitimate worry perhaps because of the actual secret, but also because the other person may be mighty mad about the secret keeping itself!

I mean, what would you do if you were the sole heir to the throne of an African country and got the opportunity to experience falling in love without the (metaphorical) weight of your crown on your head? What if you didn’t know you were going to fall in love with someone while you were undercover for your job? What if you were a nonbinary person in the Regency period and had to present as a man in order to wear breeches?

I’m just saying, there are plenty of good (and fun!) reasons for keeping a secret. Here are eight awesome examples of the keeping a secret romance trope.

Cash Braddock by Ashley Bartlett

Cash Braddock is the lovable yet morally dubious lesbian anti-heroine of your dreams. She’s a drug dealer, but she’s got her own moral code: just so-called light pills like Xanax. When she meets Laurel at a party, she is immediately in love. Laurel seems like the perfect woman for her. But Cash is worried that Laurel will eventually get tired of having a drug dealer for a girlfriend. But as they get more intimately involved, Cash starts to suspect Laurel is hiding a secret that might destroy their relationship.

Who’d Have Thought? by G Benson

Samantha is a neurosurgeon who needs a marriage of convenience, fast. She refuses to say why. Hayden is strapped for cash, so she answers Samantha’s ad for a faux bride. Unfortunately, Hayden doesn’t realize until later that Sam is the doctor she can’t stand who works at the same hospital where she is an ER nurse. But the deal is only for a year. How hard could it be to pretend that you’re madly in love with someone you really don’t like? And why is Sam willing to pay $200,000 for a wife, anyway?

princess in theory cover imageA Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole

Naledi is a young woman in the U.S. getting those “you are betrothed to an African prince and only need to send us your credit card details to seal the deal” emails. Unbeknowst to her they are actually…true. Prince Thabiso has come to America to find the woman to whom his marriage was arranged when they were children. But when Ledi mistakenly thinks he’s a commoner, Thabiso can’t help himself. He is dying for a chance to get to know his future wife without the burden of princehood. But when she finds out the truth, will Ledi want to be a princess for real?

Flirting with Disaster by Victoria Dahl

Isabelle is an artist who lives tucked away in a cabin in the woods. She has good reason for her mostly solitary lifestyle. She’s got a secret that she’s been protecting for years. The arrival of a U.S. Marshall named Tom on her doorstep threatens to expose what she’s been hiding. Too bad she’s also very attracted to him. Tom is normally a strict rule follower, except he can’t help himself when it comes to Isabelle. Something about her is definitely arousing his suspicion, but she’s also just plain arousing him.

Small Town Secrets by Katrina Jackson

Sea Port is a quiet seaside town, but there is more than enough romance, drama, and gossip to go around. That’s why no one has even noticed that Lisa, the owner of the local coffee shop, is in love with the baker’s apprentice, Bria. No one’s noticed the mayor’s recent strange behavior either. But as Bria and Sully start to tentatively explore a new relationship, a secret that is decades in the making finally begins to come to light. A unique twist on a tried and true secret-related trope!

cover of the duchess war by courtney milanThe Duchess War by Courtney Milan

Minerva is unquestionably a wallflower, and she likes it that way. The last time in her past everyone was paying attention to her, it ended badly. Very badly. She would prefer to leave that history behind. However, one person in her social circle can see through her attempts to hide her intelligence: Robert, a duke, is intrigued by Minnie and whatever lies behind her deliberately homely exterior. But it turns out Robert has some interests of his own that he’d rather not be in the public eye…

Camp Rewind by Meghan O’Brien

Alice is attending a summer camp for adults on the advice of her therapist. The idea is that it will help her with her intense social anxiety. Alice hopes to make a friend, or maybe even have a casual fling. Rosa is at Camp Rewind under a fake name. She has recently endured months of online harassment — including having a sexy video she made for an ex stolen from her cloud storage and posted. All this is due to her feminist critique of a popular video game. Now Rosa just wants to escape. When their friendship leads to romance, how will Rosa admit she’s not who she said she was?

unmasked by the marquessUnmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian

Robert is determined to find his sister a good match in marriage. However, the prospects are not good. The fact that Robert and is actually a housemaid in disguise as a man whose given name is Charity does not help matters. Alistair is a marquess dedicated to bringing his family estate back to life after his father ruined it. He has no time for the mischievous and adorable Robert, who keeps showing up on his doorstep asking for favors. Great bisexual and nonbinary representation!

Want more romance tropetonite now that you’re up on the keeping a secret romance trope? Check out these posts on the themes of royals in situations and fake relationships.