Tracy’s rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: The Pretenders, #3
Release Date: February 23, 2021
When Anne Pemberton and Rafe Blackwell meet by chance at Hatchard’s bookstore and though they do not reveal their true identities and instead call each other Lord Bodyguard and Mrs. Dazzling, a friendship forms. They spend several afternoons together before Anne doesn’t show up and it would appear their time together is over. But fate isn’t done with them yet and months later when their paths cross again and they will learn how intertwined their lives really are!
Anne, who lives with her sister Jane, Viscountess Colton, stopped meeting Rafe when she became betrothed, a mistake she deeply regrets that ended badly when her groom is arrested for extortion at their wedding. Since then Anne has been laying low and is beyond shocked and elated when she encounters Rafe in her sister’s home – apparently meeting with her brother-in-law Anthony. Rafe is just as surprised to see her – he had no idea she was Anthony’s sister-in-law. He had just come to call in a favor.
Rafe Blackwell is a man with a checkered past filled with heartbreak, violence, secrets, and lies. He is a man who has reinvented himself several times over, and a man desperate to learn the truth of his actual identity. Kidnapped at a young age, Rafe doesn’t remember where he lived before a fire claimed his parents and he ended up in London, living the life of a criminal, but he knows that is not the life he was born into. When he learns of an estate that is eerily similar to his memories, he calls in a favor from a former client of his moneylending days as the “Vicar”. When he asks Anthony to get him invited to the Earl of Stone’s estate, he has no idea how much this simple request is going to change his life.
As fate would have it, Anne is the Earl of Stone’s goddaughter and she attends the same picnic at the estate as Rafe does and finds a way to get him alone – Rafe warns her again, that he is not the man she thinks he is and that they have no future together. But Anne isn’t ready to give up on Rafe, and when the party is moved into the house and the housekeeper recognizes Rafe and his sister Selina as the children of the previous Earl of Stone – she is more determined than ever to help him take his rightful place, even though it will displace her beloved godfather. At first, Rafe tries to push Anne away but soon tells himself he needs her to help him claim his birthright, all the while, he still denies any deeper feelings and instead continues to cling to the memory of his love for his late wife. With his uncle admitting that Rafe is his long-lost nephew, it seems like things will be easily cut and dried, but claiming his birthright will not be simple, and many, many dark secrets from both sides of the claim will come to light and Anne will find herself caught in the middle of two men she loves.
This was a very well-written, fast-paced, entertaining, and interesting story. To readers of the series, the mystery of what happened to Rafe and Selina is finally solved, and the how and why of the dark tale are fascinating and well laid out. Readers of The Spitfire Society and The Untouchables series will be thrilled to catch up with several former characters and will be delighted with how neatly Ms. Burke was able to incorporate so many beloved characters into this story without detracting from Anne and Rafe. The book has a lot going for it; wonderful characters, a fascinating mystery, great secondary characters, very steamy love scenes, a villain getting his comeuppance, and finally a well-deserved HEA.
I enjoyed this story, but I did have a couple of things that kept this from being a 5 star read for me, for instance, I felt that Rafe was portrayed as actively “in love” with his late wife and I don’t mean as in he loved her (past tense) and always would, but like still in love with her and unable to love Anne, I felt that this depiction was dragged out for much of the book and then BOOM – he loves Anne. And then there is Anne herself, a wonderful character, but a bit too “Pollyanna” for my taste – I liked her, but she was just a bit too “perfect” to be relatable.
Overall, this was an excellent story and I would happily recommend this book. This book is the third book in the series, but it can be read as a standalone title with no problems.
*I am voluntarily leaving a review for an eARC that I requested and was provided to me by the publisher. All opinions are my own *