A Spring Deception (Seasons #2) by Jess Michaels

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Miss Celia Fitzgilbert’s grandfather has decreed she must marry a man with a title or he’ll never reveal her mysterious father’s identity. But her engagement to an Earl was already broken, leaving her steeped in scandal. She has all but given up until the reclusive Duke of Clairemont returns to Society and sweeps her off her feet, a potential solution to all her problems.

But things are not so simple for the duke. Aiden is not comfortable with his position in Society, perhaps because he is a fraud. In truth, Clairemont died months ago and the man playing him is a spy, bent on uncovering a dangerous secret. A flirtation with Celia, meant to help him fit in, quickly turns very real. But can Celia recover when the lies come out? Amd can Aiden keep them both alive long enough to even consider a future?

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Publisher and Release Date: The Passionate Pen, September 2016
Time and Setting: London, 1811
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 4 stars

Review by Sara

One of the romantic tropes I always enjoy is a character with a secret identity. Whatever their reasons for hiding their true selves it’s just that much more suspenseful and engaging to see love blossom even knowing that the big reveal must follow. In A Spring Deception it’s the hero – Clairemont – who isn’t all that he seems.

When the War Office learns that the Duke of Clairemont has been murdered it puts a high profile investigation in jeopardy. The duke had long been suspected of working with other men to support traitorous activities in England and his death could force their other suspects to to to ground until the rumors subside. Hoping to salvage their case and find the killer, the head of departnemt decides to keep the murder quiet and use the chameleon-like skills of his best agent – John Dane – to step into the shoes of the dead peer. Since no one in London has seen Lord Clairemont in a decade, who’s to say that the man making his appearance during the season isn’t the reclusive duke?

John, now Aiden Waring to all who meet him, is quickly overwhelmed, having to maintain the façade of a lofty Duke and keeping his ears open to any suspicious comments about his sudden arrival in town. Taking a moment away from a crowded ballroom onto a garden terrace, Aiden interrupts a similar escape by the beautiful Miss Celia Fitzgilbert. Alone and unwatched, Aiden finds himself enjoying a stolen minute to talk to a charming woman who sees him as her social equal and not the former street urchin pretending to be a duke. The feelings she awakens in his heart are intoxicating but once he learns of her connection to a suspect in the duke’s murder he is torn between emotion and duty.

For Celia, the chance meeting with the mysterious Clairemont is almost too good to be true. When her betrothal to an Earl was broken by mutual agreement, Celia found herself a bit lost and wished to find a connection with someone that’s just as strong as the one her sister shares with her husband. After only a few moments of taking with Aiden and then dancing with him Celia knows that he is a man very different than her former fiancé; one that she could form a real bond with. As the season continues Aiden finds small ways to reach out to Celia, through notes just to talk about his day or by seeking her out at events, making her fall even more under his spell. Soon, a formal courtship has been arranged but Celia can sense that Aiden is holding something important back from her and it keeps her on tenterhooks about their future. When the truth about Aiden is violently revealed to Celia and her family it makes her question everything about herself and the love she feels for a man she may not really know.

A Spring Deception is full of what I like to call Angsty-Goodness. “Aiden” comes to care for Celia very quickly but there is always a part of him that fears that it’s all based on smoke and mirrors. Celia doesn’t know the real him and he isn’t 100% sure that he himself knows where the illusion of the duke ends and the true John Dane begins. He’s never known what it’s like to live out in the open and free to express his thoughts and feelings to someone without fear that those emotions will be turned against him. All of those moments where John doubts that Celia could ever care for him without the trappings of a duke are so painful to experience along with the character. I hurt for John just as Celia does when she learns the truth. His journey was compelling and kept me turning the pages to see how everything resolved.

Celia’s growth is just as important, as she is a young woman having to discover who she is for the first time in her life. For years she had to comport herself exactly as her controlling grandfather specified and was even set to marry a man chosen for her in order to make the old man happy. Once free of his guardianship, Celia is somewhat adrift even though her sister and brother-in-law have tried to make her feel welcome in their home. I could imagine myself in Celia’s shoes wanting to take control of my life but not having the tools to do so. Everything she experiences with John liberates Celia and puts her on the path she was always meant for. She is stronger by the end of the book and I believed that she had enough strength to overcome the challenges she would face in being with John for a lifetime.

Jess Michaels has very quickly made herself an auto-buy author and I’d recommend the Seasons series to anyone looking to discover her too. A Spring Deception ties up a few threads left hanging from the previous book An Affair in Winter but leaves just enough loose ends to keep me eager for the next story.

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