When I saw that Ms. Bateman had a new book out in her Secrets and Spies series, I was anxious to get my hands on it – but wary as well. I loved the first book in the series, To Steal A Heart, but I was much less fond of the second, A Raven’s Heart. Fortunately, when I picked up A Counterfeit Heart late one evening, I couldn’t put it down. A handsome, wealthy, titled spy falls hard for the audacious French counterfeiter who has eluded him for years. The premise and the principals grab your attention early and never let go.
For the past eight years, Phillipe Lacorte has been the premier counterfeiter working in France. Though the Napoleonic Wars are over and Napoléon is imprisoned, Lacorte – actually, Sabine de la Tour – fears for her life if she remains in France. A local official wants the stash of counterfeit money he knows she’s hidden away, and when A Counterfeit Heart opens, she and her business partner are burning the forged banknotes before departing for England. They have a plan to escape, but for it to succeed, she needs help from the British spy who’s been tracking her for years. He’s come close, and only her nom de guerre – and his belief that she is a he, has enabled her to avoid him. On his last visit to France, Sabine caught a glimpse of her nemesis before quickly hiding herself away, but it was enough to permanently etch his handsome face in her memory. She knows it will be a challenge to suppress her attraction to him, but she needs his help for her plan to succeed.
Richard Hampden, Viscount Lovell, has hunted the mysterious Phillipe Lacorte for years. Determined to keep England safe from revolution, he’s willing to do almost anything to safeguard his country from insurgents seeking to destabilize it. Titled, wealthy, single – and content to remain that way – Richard is about to head out for the evening when a beautiful young woman arrives at his home and coolly informs him she is the forger he’s been seeking for so long. Doubtful, Richard challenges her to prove her identity, and after she does, explains that he wants her to forge some letters in Napoléon’s hand that he can use to root out the group of English anti-monarchists that he has been tracking for the past few months. Sabine names her price – ten thousand pounds – and then explains that if he doesn’t acquiesce, she will flood Britain with half a million pounds of counterfeit currency.
When Richard agrees – with conditions – Sabine is relieved. Lord Hampden is just as distractingly good looking as she remembered, and now that he’s agreed to her plan, she just wants to wrap up their meeting. Only after Richard orders his servants to prepare a room does Sabine grasp just where she will spend the next four weeks as Richard makes it clear he will be watching and keeping her close the entire time. Frustrated and angry about being tricked, Sabine is also worried. If she’s this frazzled by their first meeting, what will it be like to live with him? When Richard casually reveals one last condition – that Sabine pose as his intended in public (to fend off those pesky husband hunters), she knows she’s in trouble.
If secretly having the hots for someone and being forced to live in close proximity to them’ was an actual trope, it would be my favorite. Everyone in romancelandia knows what living together means: the tension ratchets up, the lust reaches a boiling point and eventually someone or something has to give. God, when it’s well done, it’s the best. Good news friends, it’s well done in A Counterfeit Heart. Ms. Bateman alternates the point of view between Sabine and Richard, and though hers is filled with doubts and uncertainties about her future – in addition to her increasingly naughty thoughts about Richard and his beautiful, hot body – his is just deliciously dirty. Everything about Sabine appeals to him – her bravery, intelligence, beauty and strength, but she’s also a mystery he longs to solve. Who is her mysterious partner? Is he a lover? Where are the counterfeit bills? Is she only using him? These worries plague Richard as he tries (and fails) to quell his emotional and physical attraction to her. Oh Richard, just kiss her already.
For fans of historical romantic spy novels, Sabine is a familiar character. Intelligent, feisty (of course!), fiercely independent, loyal, outwardly brave despite a tender, vulnerable heart… she’s a fairly stereotypical heroine. I’m okay with that, and I tend to like these women quite a bit. I’m less enthusiastic about the requirement that they also are unaware of their amazing bodies and stunning good looks… but, okay. Maybe? Richard is also familiar, but each time I read about a handsome, charismatic, arrogant and intelligent peer/spy – well, I fall hard. He’s all of these things and more. Alternately smug, amused and fiercely protective of Sabine, he’s delicious and delightful. I do love watching a hero come undone by the woman he loves, and Richard falls hard for his pint-sized blackmailer. His relationship with his sister, Heloise, is also awkwardly adorable and appealing. I loved this exchange, wherein Richard interrupts Heloise and Sabine gossiping and giggling at the modiste’s:
“I think it was a very bad decision to introduce the two of you.“ Hampden gave Sabine a hard stare. “Isn’t there somewhere else you need to be, Heloise? I’m sure Raven’s anxiously awaiting your return.
Heloise looked from him to Sabine and sighed. “If you want to get rid of me, just say it, Richard.”
“I want to get rid of you.”
She threw her arms up in the air. “Fine. I’m going. But don’t you dare be mean to Sabine, or you’ll have me to deal with.”
“I’m quaking in my boots,” drawled Richard.
As Sabine and Richard dance around their feelings, the circumstances that brought them together continue to evolve. Ms. Bateman capably balances her various story elements, and though I found the ending a bit silly (and the epilogue unnecessary), I enjoyed it.
A Counterfeit Heart redeems the Secrets and Spies series, and I found myself enjoying it even more the second time around. I’ll be anxiously awaiting Kit’s story next.
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