Miss Bates side-eyed Sarah M. Anderson’s Falling For Her Fake Fiancé: 5th in the Beaumont Heirs series … how tired can that get? She wasn’t keen on #3, A Beaumont Christmas Wedding (didn’t read #4). Miss Bates is a lover of pie, particularly humble pie, and especially when she has to eat her words. 😉 She had to read Falling For Her Fake Fiancé because alliteration and near-marriage-of-convenience, two elements irresistible to Miss B. She went in doubtful and emerged glowing with reader satisfaction. Hero Ethan Logan is CEO of Beaumont Brewery, dealing with redundancy, raising the “bottom line.” He takes sick companies and makes them well; then, on to the next corporate patient. Nothing’s working for him at Beaumont and his fixer pride smarts: employees wage a calling-in-sick campaign and production is down, thanks to their loyalty for former owners, the Beaumont clan. Enter stunner Beaumont sister, Frances, with cleavage and charm, sharp-tongued, armed with donuts. In a heartbeat, the employees are eating donuts and out of her hand. Ethan’s savvy businessman’s pragmatism, not his raging attraction to Frances, no, not that, finds him verbally sparring, lusting, and proposing a marriage-of-convenience. With this connection to the Beaumonts, employees will co-operate, Ethan does the job, and gets the hell out of Dodge, well, Denver. What’s in it for Frances? She is used to men’s adulation and attention, but her professional life, an online art gallery, went bust. At 30, she lives at home, feels like a failure, and wants her family’s place in the sun back. If not that, then, a little coy revenge would go a long way to assuage hurt pride. What she doesn’t count on? How nice Ethan is and how he makes her want things she never considered.
From page one, Miss Bates’ reader experience was delight. Anderson’s romance was funny, well-written. It opened with Ethan staring down the archaic intercom system installed in his Beaumont Brewery office. Anderson goes on to set up what is an adeptly written conventional premise. Frances may be proud, vain, but she’s a people person. While she hankers for a little sweet revenge, she agrees to Ethan’s proposal to protect the interests of the company employees, or as she calls them, “family,” “friends”. Ethan, on the contrary, is efficient, controlled, and removed from sentimental considerations. Delight is never-ending as Anderson scratches away at her Frances and Ethan, flipping our initial impression and making Frances emotionally reticent and Ethan expansive. What is, at first, a conventional opposites-attract turns into something much more engaging. Anderson builds, moreover, on what Frances and Ethan share: parental marriages so blighted, so full of a lethal combination of betrayal and indifference, that their HEA is all the more hopeful and beautiful.
What mattered to Miss Bates about Anderson’s novel may sound too lit-crit-ish, but she remained fascinated by it. She thought what Anderson did worthy of admiration on the level of craft. Anderson reminded Miss Bates of that supreme craft-iste, yes, dear romance readers, the incomparable Betty Neels, in that Anderson too is a great revealer of character through sartorial choices, food, and flowers. Miss Bates will indulge in a few charming examples. When Frances’ business collapsed, she sold her designer wardrobe; now, she ekes out her outfits, primed to seduce Ethan. Frances ponders her meagre wardrobe before their first date: “The red dress would render him completely speechless; that she knew. She’d always had a fondness for it – it transformed her into a proper lady instead of what she often felt like, the black sheep of the family. The little black dress was really the only choice. It was a halter-top style and completely backless.” We learn much about Frances: she considers herself the “black sheep” of the family; dresses are her armor and persona. She puts them on and plays her part: important, celebrated, stunning Beaumont heiress. Ah, but she also hides behind them. And this hurts her. Until Ethan. When she meets Ethan at the office, he wears generic billionaire suit. When Frances saunters in to dinner, he surprises her: “Then she saw him. And did a double take. Yes, those shoulders, that neck, were everything she remembered them being. The clothing, however? Unlike the conservative grey suit and dull tie he’d had on in the office, he was wearing a pair of artfully distressed jeans, a white buttonup shirt without a tie and … a purple sports coat? A deep purple – plum, maybe.” What does this say about Ethan? That he’s anything but dull. Here are flair and personality: a propensity for dandy-hood that brings him out of the boardroom. And confidence. Maybe even a touch of danger, thanks to the “distressed” jeans. In the boardroom, one thing, but what does his plum sports coat promise for the bedroom?
Ethan’s choice of clothes becomes a wonderful source of banter. While the clothing choices give us insight to the individual characters, their conversation hints at the nature of the relationship to come:
“That’s a great colour on you. Very … ” She let the word hang in the air for a beat too long. “Bold,” she finished. “Not just any man could pull off that look.” He raised his eyebrows. She realized he was trying not to laugh at her. “Says the woman who showed up in an emerald evening gown to hand out donuts. Have no fear, I’m comfortable in my masculinity. Shall we? I made reservations at the restaurant.” He held out his arm for her. The maître d’ led them to a small table tucked in a dim corner. They ordered – she got the lobster, just to be obnoxious about it, and he got the steak, just to be predictable –
Tell me, dear readers, what isn’t going on here? The pointed discussion of Ethan’s plum jacket and his great riposte that he’s comfortable in his masculinity. The menu choices, reading like women/men stereotypes. And yet, these characters are anything but: their artifice, banter, and push/pull of self-interest and an emerging love for another person (a feeling up to now foreign to both) make them come alive. Anderson shows the beauty of that initial acquaintance with the other who will take on significance. Her/his significance is there, like a seed, cultivated and coddled till it grows. Ethan and France’s charm lies in a seemingly contradictory – but not – ability to be comfortable enough together to tease and torment without hurt, and yet, still be bowled over by love when it comes calling loud and clear. Because these two decry love. What they have is an arrangement, a deal that will gain them both what they want. The quixotic idea that the heart is a thing to be ignored comes with Miss Bates’ favourite line from Falling. Ethan falls first and more easily and honestly; Frances is a goner for Ethan too, but she’s a resistor, so she falls hard. When she insists their relationship is based on mutual attraction and interests, Ethan resists and then concedes, “No more tenderness. End of discussion.” And yet, Anderson shows how foolish Ethan and Frances are … while they decry tenderness, every touch, every gesture bespeaks it.
Like Miss Bates favourite Betty Neels, Tulips For Augusta, Anderson’s hero has to learn who the heroine is and what she needs from him by the trial and error of sending her flowers – until he gets it right. Roses, lilies, a bird of paradise arrangement figure in Ethan’s efforts to prove his worth and love to Frances. Miss Bates will let you discover what wins Ethan his Frances, dear reader. Sarah M. Anderson’s Falling for Her Fake Fiancé is wonderful. With Miss Austen, Miss Bates says, “there is no charm equal to tenderness of heart,” Emma.
Sarah M. Anderson’s Falling For Her Fake Fiancé is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on October 6th, 2015 and may be acquired at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates is grateful to Harlequin for an e-ARC, via Netgalley.