When a person has been reading romances for a while, it becomes easy for her to tell approximately when a book has been written--early eighties, late eighties, early nineties, etc... Each era has its own particular "tells" along the path of female empowerment and sexual liberation. In spite of the fact that we are led to believe the heroine here is not a virgin, this book is definitely early eighties, and clearly should have been left there.
If you haven't figured it out already, anything with the MIRA star logo on it was probably originally published a while ago. MIRA has taken to re-issuing early works by such popular authors as Stephanie Laurens, Linda Howard and Jayne Ann Krentz. Although these authors produce wonderful work today, their first novels weren't necessarily as stellar. These books are definitely dated, and exemplify what publishers thought women wanted to read at the time. Most readers will react with a resounding "YUCK!!!" if they come across these stories today (Linda Howard's All That Glitters is a fine example of this).
Here, Kelsey Murdock is no dewy-eyed ingenue, but a 28 year-old independent woman. Nonetheless, Cole Stockton expects her to give up her job so he can support her, because he can't stand her not being there when he calls to check up on her. This is typical of early eighties romances, where the formula is that the man completely takes over the woman's life and, apart from shedding a few tears, she inexplicably and illogically decides she has no other choice but to go along with it. All's well that ends well when she finally realizes she's in love with him. The hero decides toward the end of the novel that he would like to keep the heroine, and that's the end of that.
In Man With A Past, Cole doesn't want to tell Kelsey anything about his past, or talk about the future. When she sees that this relationship can go nowhere and tries to break up with him, he forces her to have sex with him in a frighteningly pre-political correctness kind of way. Of course, after this Kelsey doesn't cut off his privates or even report him to the local authorities, as one would today. Moreover, she doesn't even get a temporary restraining order when he calls her afterwards and says things like "I made you mine, and there's no going back to a time when you didn't belong to me." In 2002, that's not sexy, just creepy.
Kelsey avoids Cole until she goes on vacation. She takes a cruise, during which she is supposed to deliver an attache case to a reclusive co-worker. While she is suffering a bout of sea-sickness, Cole decides to steal the highly confidential material she is carrying, and expects Kelsey not to question his actions and trust him blindly. She gets understandably indignant, but then doesn't follow through like a logical person and call the ship authorities. Instead she sticks around for more of his high-handedness, even when he says things like "Nothing stands between us but your stubborn female curiosity and arrogance." There is no way a premise like that would fly today. In 2002, the hero's interfering with--and essentially taking over-- the heroine's job could only be called boneheaded; him for doing it, and her for allowing him to get away with it.
In accordance with the standard formula, toward the end of the book Cole decides to change the rules of the relationship with no explanation to Kelsey: "Once inside the walls, you can't get back out...I could never let you go free." Kelsey falls in love with this overbearing neanderthal in spite of everything, and without him having to change his demeaning ways an iota or apologize even once. She admits she loves him, and only then does he deign to tell her very briefly about his past. The whole thing nicely sets the stage for the beginnings of a singularly abusive marriage.
Bottom line, this book is extremely condescending and border-line frightening. But maybe it could be used in a compare/contrast exercise in women's studies classes...