Reviewed by Mandi
I loved Sweet Disorder, the first book set in the town of Lively St. Lemeston and steeped in small town politics. I think I like True Pretenses even more. Ash Cohen has survived on the streets and raised his brother from infancy by thieving, bodysnatching and eventually swindling people out of their money. Ash and his brother Rafe have become masters at charming their way into people’s lives, and hurrying away with their money. Ash was born to a whore, and left on his own at an early age. He loves his brother unconditionally and would do anything to keep him fed and safe. Lately however, Rafe is getting tired of scheming and hurting people – he wants out and to join the army. Ash is devastated by Rafe’s decision and asks him for one last favor – to perform one more con, so they have enough money to buy Rafe a commission in the army,. Rafe agrees, and off they go to figure out their next target. She comes in the form of heiress, Lydia Reeve.
Lydia has politics in her blood. With the recent passing of her father, Lydia fully expects her brother Jamie to take over leadership of the Tories in Lively St. Lemeston, but to her dismay, Jamie wants nothing to do with it. He doesn’t like the fact that his family spends so much money buying people’s votes and such. Lydia has been running the household, raising her brother and helping her father since she was young. She can’t imagine her life, or those they support, if her brother does not continue to be their patron.
After hearing gossip of Lydia’s predicament over a meal one night, Ash knows she is their next target. Deciding to set Rafe up to marry Lydia, which would release her funds to her (unreachable to her if not married) and would then allow Rafe enough money to buy a commission – and Lydia and Rafe could have a lovely marriage of convenience, both get what they want, and not have to really deal with one another. But Lydia falls for Ash – and Ash can’t help but want her as well. What Lydia doesn’t know is Ash’s past – he is a jewish thief that has stolen from so many. Can he go forth with this deception?
One thing I love so much about Rose Lerner’s characters is that she makes them perfectly imperfect. These imperfection shine in this book. Ash and Lydia both have this selfish side to them – both willing to do things to get money to fulfill their wants, but they are also extremely unselfish when it comes to their siblings. They both raised a brother from a very young age, and they sacrificed things for their brothers’ happiness. When they agree to this sham of a marriage, they both have to pretend to be madly in love. As time continues, they both start to fall in love yet there is always that insecurity that the other is still scheming and the small touches or kisses may just be for show. I loved their journey – they were genuinely attracted to each other when they meet, but falling in love is something neither expected yet neither could fully trust at first.
She was trying to act besotted, so that was right. Tentatively she let the emotion grow, groping her way along the curve of her instincts. He knew it didn’t mean anything.
She turned his hand over and kissed his palm, then his wrist. Sitting up, she pressed his hand to her heart and met his eyes. “Do you feel that?
The moment trembled in the air between them like a wire strung taut, and even so the corner of his mouth twitched. She doubted he could feel a thing through all her clothes. She tamped down her own smile. He nodded solemnly.
“It’s yours,” she said.
His lips parted. His chest heaved, and there was such hunger on his face – his eyes were bright, as if with tears or fever –
He whopped with laughter, the exhilarated sound smashing the moment into buoyant, giddy shards. “You are a quick study. There, wasn’t that as good as the real thing?”
Ash is shorter and broader and not the handsome romance hero presented in so many other books. While he respects Lydia and is kind to her, he doesn’t always feel sorry for her and her case. She grew up with money, while he did unspeakable things on the street.
“I am a Jew,” he reminded her. “I am a bodysnatcher.” She flinched at the word, and he smiled, so gently it made her shiver. “My mother was a whore, and my father could have been anybody. I’m a swindler and a thief. You can’t seriously mean to marry me.”
But she does. And they do. And it’s fabulous.
I love that the author pairs a swindler and an heiress and allows them to be their true selves. Ash can pretend to be a gentleman for their marriage, but only for so long. Then what happens when the truth comes out? The consequences and Lydia’s unwavering love of Ash is done well.
What starts as a marriage of convenience turns into a sexy love affair. And their declaration of love and gestures of love towards the end made me smile. For those that read Sweet Disorder, Lydia is a Tory where the previous heroine was a whig, so it’s fun to switch sides. The actual politics is a little lighter in this book – we see more of the weight of financial responsiblity of her political party in this book, but otherwise it’s very focused on Ash and the shadows that follow him around from his past.
Very well done story and romance. I highly recommend this book and all of Rose Lerner’s back list.