Updated: Jan 12
Written by Abbey Foxx. Narrated by Alana Thicke.
Tropes: Marriage of convenience (due to strange rules in a will), surprise baby, happily ever after
Narrator: I thought Thicke was great. Granted, I prefer audiobooks narrated by women, so she had that going for her. (Not just romance, but across all genres.) I believe far more women do better at sounding like a man than men do as a woman. Some people don't like different voices for different characters, but I prefer it because dialogue is a thing. She had one character's voice that I found a little annoying—but I found that guy a little annoying, so that may have colored my feelings a little. Overall, it was a great delivery of a fun story. She had consistent and clear voices and was pleasant to listen to.
Story: I unapologetically love campy marriage of convenience tales. Ryan Carter-Speed is a struggling actor hopelessly in lust with his co-star, Sophia Moreaux. The feelings are mutual, but it's complicated. Both of them are good actors playing the male and female romantic leads of an upcoming stage play. The play ends in a wedding, so by the time we meet them, they've practiced being "married" a couple dozen times. Both of them ask themselves if it's just onstage chemistry or something more. And to make things even harder for the pair, Sophia is a French citizen on a student visa that's about to run out. Neither of them wants to start a relationship that might have to end when she leaves the country.
Then Ryan's unknown great aunt dies. The black sheep of the family was a successful actress and knew that Ryan was an actor. Sharing that kinship, she leaves him a million dollars in her will . . . with a few stipulations. Because the black sheep had some traditional values, Ryan has to be married before the clock runs out or he gets nothing. Also, there will be a neutral observer making sure that the marriage is real instead of a get-rich-quick scheme.
Sophie is the obvious choice for his fake fiance. They look great on stage, so obviously, they can pull it off enough to convince whoever will check their relationship's authenticity, whether it's the neutral observer mentioned in the will or the US government making sure this isn't just a green card marriage.
The characters are likable except for the few appropriately hateable. Those exceptions are either minor points of friction, or their complications happen off stage. The main drive is these two trying to figure out how to tell if this is real without making an awkward situation even more awkward. How are you supposed to react if your fake fiance doesn't return your real feelings? They spend a lot of time torturing themselves with the "is this real fake, fake fake, or real real" questions.
A slight baby bump in the road at the end was a surprise for Sophia. And especially for Ryan since it turns out Sophia has been pregnant longer than they've been together. I like how chill Ryan was about it, though. I was expecting drama, drama, drama, but after the shock wore off, he was 100% behind whatever choice Sophia was going to make.
I have a few minor complaints, but none of them were deal-breakers. There are more "say" dialogue tags than I'd like. Just a smidge more variety is my preference. There was a small Chekhov's gun problem with the possibility of their relationship being seen as purely opportunistic by either the neutral observer stipulated in the will or USCIS. The resolution of the inheritance and the green card are tucked in the epilogue, almost a side note. I would have like to have seen some of that in the main narrative. But wanting the writer to write more isn't such a bad thing. And when it comes to immigration, I had trouble squaring the ease of that with my experience. For a while, I worked with immigration attorneys. Granted, I saw the experience with people of color from the global south, so things are probably easier for a white girl from France. And I can understand that in erotica, you might want to gloss over the intricacies of US immigration law.
I've read it twice now because I liked it when I first read it, and once I decided to do book reconditions, I thought I should give it another read, and I didn't mind revisiting this one. It was fun. The leads had great romantic and sexual chemistry. It's worth a read if you're at all interested in fake relationships that aren't so fake by the end.
You can find it here.