Love's Deception
by Adrianne Byrd, contemporary (2000)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-136-7

This is a good one. There are moments when I fear the story would plunge into one of those horrific dysfunctional-people-on-rebound-affairs thingie, but Love's Deception never loses the plot or falters in being a darned solid romance story.

Carissa Cartel, or CJ as she is known, is a ball-busting corporate businesswoman. President of her family's big, big business, she earns her reputation by being as heartless and conniving as her late father. But when she does a ruthless takeover over Travis Edward's company and causes the old man to have a heart attack right there and then before her, she thinks maybe it's time she reexamines her life a little. Okay, a lot.

And when she falls for Travis' supposedly bohemian photographer son Nathan (I say supposedly because Nathan has pots of money and I always thought bohemians are penniless), things get very sticky. Can "Carissa Carnes" ever come clean to Travis? Oh boy.

Yet for a story about secrets (everyone here, except Nathan, has secrets), Love's Deception has a very satisfying pay-off. I do cringe in expectation of a big, messy blowout when all secrets are revealed, but thank heavens, after the instinctive bluster, these people actually sit down and talk. Likewise, after realizing that I have nothing to fear (I really am allergic to long, drawn-out sulks and tantrums in my reading), a second reread allows me to savor the initial romance between Nathan and Carissa much, much better.

True, I do wish sometimes there are more quiet times early in the story rather than those two taking cheap potshots at each other. But the second half of Love's Deception more than compensates for it, when our two lovebirds fall hard. And in a refreshing change from the usual misogynistic-caveman-on-rebound-affairs Arabesque heroes, when Nathan falls, he knows it and embraces his feelings gladly.

The best thing about this story, however, is that Carissa actually changing for the better without compromising or even making apologies for her status as a powerful businesswoman as well as her ambitions. Her change and thawing is well done, and one of my favorite scenes is when she makes the first move to befriend her overworked secretary Liz.

It is one thing to love the romance, but when the plot also falls into place nicely (and well-paced it is too) and when the secondary characters (the villain and the obligatory matchmaking auntie of the heroine) are just as good to read, I think Love's Deception is a winner with me.

Rating: 89

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