Love’s Secret Ingredient (Love in the Valley Book 3)

Cover of Love's Secret Ingredient by Michele Dunaway

She was following the recipe but…

Maybe he was the something missing.

When Nick Reilly enters her cookie store, baker Zoe James doesn’t recognize the poor boy from school she used to sneak free cookies to. But secret billionaire Nick remembers her kindness and offers his help when Zoe is hit by a crisis. Suddenly, he’s posing as her fiancé, baking treats and falling for Zoe! Can Nick reveal who he is—and convince Zoe they have the right ingredients to create the relationship they both crave?

From Harlequin Special Edition: Believe in love. Overcome obstacles. Find happiness.

Love in the Valley

Book 1: What Happens in the Air
Book 2: All’s Fair in Love and Wine
Book 3: Love’s Secret Ingredient

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  • Publisher: Harlequin Special Edition; Original edition (May 23, 2023)
  • Language: English
  • Mass Market Paperback: 288 pages
  • ISBN-1:‎ 1335724699
  • ISBN-13:‎ 978-1335724694
  • Item Weight:‎ 4.8 ounces
  • Dimensions: 4.19 x 0.72 x 6.63 inches

What Inspired Me – visit Wild Crush Wine Bar(n)

So, so fabulous

Love’s Secret Ingredient is the third in Michele’s Love in the Valley series and it is so, so fabulous. Zoe James is a business owner and single mum with a determination that she is where she’s meant to be. Nick Reilly comes back into town no longer the poor boy who was bullied in school, he’s a billionaire who wants to keep his identity a secret no longer willing to accept being treated as the poor kid done good or someone’s meal ticket. Nick has never forgotten Zoe’s kindness towards him but unfortunately she doesn’t remember him. They form a friendship that turns into something more and along the way realize what’s important and that they can overcome the pain of their past (Nick) and learn to focus on what they really want instead of staying safe (Zoe) I loved this story so much and throw in a fake engagement to get Zoe’s family off her back and I’m hooked. This is a sweet, endearing story and even though it’s part of a series you can totally read it as a standalone (but you’re going to want to read the rest of the series)

Sara from Goodreads

Fresh, fun, flirty story of cookies and second chances at love

I enjoyed this story so much. Nick was an outcast in high school and visits Beaumont, now very successful and attractive. He sees his former crush, Zoe, who doesn’t remember him. She has a successful cookie business, and is now divorced, a single mom, and working on making it on her own despite a hovering mom and gossipy, petty local women. She really likes Nick, who helps build her confidence, but he isn’t completely open with her and is just visiting from out of state. Set in a charming, historical neighborhood near St. Louis, this story is well-written, fresh, and fun.

Denise, St. Louis
Amazon Reader

Sweet story with a bit of heat.

Sweet story with a bit of heat. All of her life, Zoe wanted nothing more than to run her mom’s cookie bakery, Auntie Jayne’s Cookies. She’s recently purchased it, and it is all hers. As a single mom, Zoe’s life is taken up with her daughter Megan and the store. Her two attempts at relationships failed, so she’s pretty much written love off for the foreseeable future. That changes when Nick Reilly returns to town.

Nick grew up poor and bullied before his family moved to California when he was a junior in high school. He had a big crush on Zoe and used to go to the cookie store whenever he had spare money. He’s returned to town after selling his company but keeps the details of his life under his hat. He’s tired of being seen as the poor kid who made good or someone’s meal ticket. It’s almost a relief when neither Zoe nor anyone else recognizes him. I loved Nick. He’s a genuinely nice guy who doesn’t flaunt his wealth. He’s come to Beaumont to exorcise the demons of his youth, make some better memories, and then move on to figure out what he wants to do with the rest of his life.

I enjoyed seeing the relationship between Nick and Zoe develop. She doesn’t remember him, so she has no preconceived ideas about him. This was important when she and Nick ran into each other at the wine bar that night. I loved seeing them connect and how comfortable they were with each other. It was sweet when he offered to walk her home and fortuitous because he was with her when the fire department arrived at her house. I loved how Nick stayed by her side and supported her then and the next day as she dealt with all the issues. Seeing his support as she faced her mother’s micromanaging was especially heartwarming, though he didn’t expect her to claim they were engaged.

I loved seeing them spend time together. Zoe sees Nick the man because she doesn’t know his background or financial status. Though he expects to leave town soon, he can’t bring himself to leave as they get to know each other. I liked how good he was with Zoe’s daughter, Megan, who clearly returned his affection. I especially enjoyed seeing how Nick’s support greatly improved Zoe’s confidence. Zoe has often felt that she struggles for her mother’s approval for everything from her personal life to the cookie store. She also tends to worry about what other people think, making her second guess herself.

As time goes on, each realizes that their feelings are growing. But Nick has no plans to stay in Beaumont, and Zoe’s roots are deep in its soil. When Zoe’s jerk of an ex-husband spills the beans on Nick’s identity (and not in a nice way), Zoe is hurt and angered by what she sees as Nick’s lack of trust. I ached for them both as it drove a wedge between them. Both have some trust and confidence issues to overcome, and I loved seeing how they worked through them. The ending was sweet and emotional, and the epilogue was a great wrap-up.

I loved the St. Louis area setting, with mentions of things like the Katy Trail and the Blues hockey team. My husband and I have been to several wineries in that area, so it all felt natural and familiar.

scoutmomskf from BookBub

Must Read

This book is a must read for anyone looking to escape into a world of romance. I found myself turning the pages with urgency, hanging on every word. Zoe and Nick’s love story was passionate, refreshing, familiar yet exciting, empowering, and sexy. I read the book in two days because I could hardly set it down!

Alison Bacon