No one likes a liar. Yet, keeping secrets or not telling the "whole" truth is a well known way of creating or sustaining conflict in a story. Often the reader is aware that one character isn't being truthful to the other and they know that the trainwreck is coming when the truth is revealed.
If it's not done right, this device might seemed contrived, if it's well-motivated, I think it can work really well. After all, are we all totally truthful to each other in real life? It's often easier to avoid conflict by avoiding the whole truth, perhaps telling one of those "little white lies" or maybe just leaving out the uncomfortable part of the story.
I admit to using this device in several of my stories.
In my Red Sage novella, Dark Angel, Julie doesn't tell Rafe the "whole" truth about why she sought him out to find out what happened the night her sister died. But then, Rafe, avoids telling her the truth of the events of that night for most of the story.
In my Ellora's Cave novel, Chains of Desire, Hannah lies about who she is - as a decoy for her princess, she must. But Jarrod lets her think he's something he's not as well.
In my Samhain contemporary romance, The Ride of Her Life, Sarah is not entirely truthful with Dean when she talks him into giving her a ride across the country on his Harley. But then again, Dean isn't entirely truthful with Sarah either, about what he's doing with his life now. Both of them avoid telling the truth, but when it comes out, they might as well have outright lied.
Sarah took another swallow, then cleared her throat. She looked up at him with those big eyes, took a deep breath and blurted, “Take me with you.”
Dean wasn’t sure what he expected, but it certainly wasn’t that. “What?”
“You’re leaving for Los Angeles in the morning, right?”
“Where did you hear that?”
“From Jennifer Krusick’s son. I want to go with you.”
“Sarah, I don’t understand. If you want to go to California, you can drive there yourself. You don’t want to ride on my bike.”
“Yes, I do. Anyway, my car died this morning.”
“Take a plane. It’s a lot quicker too.”
“I don’t want quicker. I want interesting. I want exciting.”
Heaven help him. Sarah Austin wanted excitement. “By the time we get to L.A. on my bike, your whole vacation will be gone.”
“I have a lot of vacation time saved up.”
“This is crazy.”
She laughed, but it wasn’t a light, happy sound. “I know. Please take me to L.A.”
He frowned. There was desperation in her face, in her voice, and he didn’t understand it. “Why do you want to go to California?”
She took a step closer to him. He could smell a light, flowery scent, probably from her hair. The shiny strands looked so soft he almost reached out to touch them before he caught himself and pulled his hand back. He stepped away before he could try it again.
“It doesn’t matter why I want to go,” she said, determination rising in her voice. “I’ll pay for everything. All the gas. The food. The lodging. Everything.”
“Sarah?” He stepped closer again, even though he knew he shouldn’t. He must have been allergic to that scent she wore because he felt a little dizzy, a little off-center around her. “Are you in some kind of trouble?”
Some emotion he couldn’t identify flashed in her eyes. “If you won’t take me, I’ll hitchhike.”
“I’m perfectly serious.”
“Sarah, be sensible about this.”
She started to shake and her face turned as red as it had this morning, but Dean could tell the difference between embarrassment and anger. This time he’d ticked her off royally.
But damn if she didn’t look fine. This was not the meek and mild little Sarah he remembered sitting on her front porch with her nose in a book. This Sarah was vibrant and alive. Her eyes sparkled. Her skin glowed.
He wanted to know more about her. What had she been doing all these years? What was going on with her now?
He wanted to give in to the crazy urge to pull her into his arms and discover what her body felt like beneath the baggy clothes. He wanted to kiss her and find out what her passion tasted like.
As he entertained his lustful thoughts, he saw Sarah pull herself together. Drawing in a deep, shaky breath, she relaxed her clenched fists. She stared at him through narrowed eyes and set the root beer bottle on the coffee table.
I've noticed in each of these examples, both of my characters have not been entirely truthful with the other and I think this is important, especially in the reader's mind. If only one of the characters was lying, there may be lots of negative reactions. But if neither one of them is being truthful, it tends to balance things out.
So do you like stories where the characters keep the truth from each other?