Publish Date: Out now
Reviewed by: E & Lou
How we got this book: ARC from the author
Never steal a heart unless you can afford to lose your own.
Through sheer force of will, Ash Cohen raised himself and his younger brother from the London slums to become the best of confidence men. He’s heartbroken to learn Rafe wants out of the life, but determined to grant his brother his wish.
It seems simple: find a lonely, wealthy woman. If he can get her to fall in love with Rafe, his brother will be set. There’s just one problem—Ash can’t take his eyes off her.
Heiress Lydia Reeve is immediately drawn to the kind, unassuming stranger who asks to tour her family’s portrait gallery. And if she married, she could use the money from her dowry for her philanthropic schemes. The attraction seems mutual and oh so serendipitous—until she realizes Ash is determined to matchmake for his younger brother.
When Lydia’s passionate kiss puts Rafe’s future at risk, Ash is forced to reveal a terrible family secret. Rafe disappears, and Lydia asks Ash to marry her instead. Leaving Ash to wonder—did he choose the perfect woman for his brother, or for himself?
Warning: Contains secrets and pies.
This blurb came from the author’s http://www.roselerner.com website.
E: I read and really enjoyed one of Lerner’s other stories so when her review request came in I decided to give this a try despite not reading the first installment. While I didn’t have the same love for True Pretenses as I did for A Lily Among Thorns, Lerner is certainly on my list of authors to follow. I have to admit I stalled on reading this story because I was worried about things going to very very dark places with the reveal of the terrible family secret. Thankfully most of my worries were unfounded and the secret wasn’t a “misunderstanding” but something which really played into the characters and their story.
Lou: I fondly remember reading Rose Lerner’s debut when it first came out years ago under Dorchester (now republished under Samhain publishing) so when we received this request, I also said yes. I was worried how dark this book was going but like E mentions above, my worries were unfounded also (not that I don’t think books shouldn’t go to dark places). Rose Lerner really does turn the usual tropes around and make something new. I was expecting Ash and Rafe to deceive Lydia about their past and matchmaking skills for most of the book but it never happened. It was really refreshing for the heroine to turn around and barter for herself and to know and accept what Ash and Rafe were planning.
E: Ash grew up on the shady side and while he could act the proper gentleman when a con called for it, he always felt like he didn’t belong with proper society but neither was he at home amongst the criminals. As a result, he and his younger brother, Rafe, roamed the country running cons to score enough money to live on and move to the next place. In addition to living as conmen, they also hid their background because England at the time was rather inhospitable to Jews. While Ash was relatively content to live this way, Rafe found himself wanting something different, something honest which meant something away from Ash. Because everything Ash did he justified as doing to take care of his brother, Ash hid his feelings of rejection and set off to find a con he could make real for Rafe.
Lydia thought she had her life planned out. She was content playing the political hostess, do-gooder, spinster, and activist. Then her father died unexpectedly, her brother, Jamie, showed no interest in maintaining any of the political or charitable activity she shared with her father, and she couldn’t bring herself to admit she no longer had the resources to continue her activities. So in an attempt to buy time she started running her own little con while she worked on securing funds from either her dowry or convincing her brother to take up their father’s mantle. Then she encountered Ash and his plan to marry off his brother only things didn’t quite go as planned for either of them.
Lou: I found Ash fascinating. Despite his dark and miserable upbringing, there was a lightness to his facade. Everything Ash did was for Rafe and the love and bond the two shared was heartwarming because you know Ash would have died for his brother and vice versa. Lydia was just as fascinating as Ash and had a similar, though more fraught relationship with her younger brother, Jamie. She also brought Jamie up and couldn’t understand why he didn’t want the responsibilities of what it entailed from the estate. The political slant to the story worried me a little but I soon got over it. Lerner created characters that while had political differences still respected each other. Ash and Lydia had totally different background classes and Lydia was much more accepting of Ash’s past and history than I think he was of her privileged upbringing, though the two came to terms very quickly. It was all very mature and adult-like. Lydia had her own issues to deal with, that of her brother Jamie, and how she believed in doing her duty for the family name and estate and her charity towards others.
E: I enjoyed the slow growing romance and faster physical attraction between Ash and Lydia. I loved how they dealt with the family secret even when Ash’s external motivation to continue the con was gone. Watching them discover each other as they worked together to achieve their personal goals was rather interesting. It certainly helped me believe in their romance and the grand gestures towards the end. I thought the mixture of truth and lies between them as the con artists fell for their own con was also entertaining. However, what made them fall for the con was the fact that deep inside they were ready and wanted to believe in it.
Lou: The romance was lovely, though sometimes I found the sexual heat between them to be a little too short and quick. I wanted less talking between Lydia and Ash and more smexy action and dirty talk because Ash did engage in some mild dirty talk, the dirty man. In the end, both Lydia and Ash ended up conning each other out of the con. It was entertaining because after all the swindles Ash had done over the years, he probably swindled himself into receiving the best prize of all; a home and a family to love without having to hurt anymore innocent people by conning them out of their money.
E: Lerner provided a sweet romance in True Pretenses and she also provided an interesting look at what people will do out of familial love and a wish to find a home. Her characters all made difficult choices and had to live with the result of those choices. I wasn’t always comfortable reading this story because of what her characters did BUT it really made them three dimensional and added to the depth in her story. As I said earlier, Lerner is on my list of authors to follow because of her characterization and spin on otherwise familiar historical settings.
I give True Pretenses a B+
Lou: True Pretenses was a sweet romance with a set of characters that are very different to the usual dukes and duchesses. Ash and Rafe swindled a lot of innocent people over the years and that’s something that can’t be erased which is refreshing since it’s not a Robin Hood story where they only stole from the bad people, which is why I was also uncomfortable at times reading this book. At times I found myself wanting more tension between Lydia and Ash. At times everything felt like it was going too smoothly. Still, I enjoyed this book and will be looking out to see if Rafe gets his own book.
I give a True Pretenses a B