One of my favorite romance tropes is the “fake romance-turned-real” trope. It is often called the “fake engagement” trope, but with contemporary romances it is more common to find characters who are in need of a fake boyfriend or girlfriend. A story with this classic trope can often incorporate other favorite tropes, such as “friends to lovers”, “enemies to lovers”, “marriage of convenience”, and others. I adore the farcical elements in romances that have a fake relationship that turns real.
“Only the best for my fake boyfriend. Unless you’re fake breaking up with me, in which case I’ll be taking my gourmet takeout elsewhere.” – ONE OF THESE NIGHTS by Kendra Leigh Castle
With traditional fake relationship stories, I put them into three basic categories: The first category typically involves a friends-to-lovers theme, or stories in which the two people involved are friendly and work together in a way that is peaceful and that they enjoy. Another category involves strangers who meet and decide to have a fake relationship out of convenience. Finally, you also have a situation in which two people have a somewhat contentious relationship but for whatever reason decide to put on a ruse of romance. In “Mistletoe Me, Baby” by Katie Reus and MEANT TO BE by Denise A. Agnew, friendships turn amorous when two men jump at the chance to finally show the women they love that they deserve to get out of the friend-zone. In THE REAL DEAL, Lauren Blakely has the heroine hire the hero to be her fake boyfriend at a family reunion in her quaint hometown. April and Theo like each other almost immediately, with a wonderful witty banter, but Theo’s status as a paid fake boyfriend stands between them having anything real. In #Moonstruck by Sariah Wilson and ONE OF THESE NIGHTS by Kendra Leigh Castle each author takes a wildly different path in taking two people who have a rocky beginning and having friction turn to falling in love.
“…it was no hardship to act the part of Miranda’s fiancé. Because he hoped to make that a reality soon enough. It was just a matter of showing her they belonged together.” – “Mistletoe Me, Baby” by Katie Reus
My favorite variation on the fake relationship theme involves two people who have known each other a long time when fate finally gives them a nudge toward romance. I especially love it when a guy holds a torch for his female BFF like in the novella “Mistletoe Me, Baby” in the O’CONNOR FAMILY SERIES COLLECTION by Katie Reus. Nolan O’Connor has lusted after and loved his best friend Miranda Flores for what seems like forever. Fate seems to give grant him a boon when Miranda winds up asking him to play the part of her fake fiancé. From that moment on, Nolan turns up the heat as well as showing Miranda why he is everything she needs. WRONG MAN, RIGHT KISS by Red Garnier is a deeply erotic tale of longing about a man and a woman forced into a quasi-family relationship while their natural attraction was unnaturally suppressed. This is a fake relationship that rings true from the very beginning and brings honest, yet long-hidden, emotions to the surface. MEANT TO BE by Denise A. Agnew is so much fun and a brilliant bit of brain candy involving two longtime friends who wind up pretending to be newlyweds. Denise A. Agnew does a great job of creating goofy misunderstandings without cluttering the romance. I love this story even more because the hero has always carried a torch for the heroine and finally gets his moment to woo her. Two other books that epitomize the best aspects of fake relationship stories are FOOLPROOF LOVE by Katee Robert and HOT COWBOY NIGHTS by Carolyn Brown. Both stories feature a hero and heroine who are not strangers to each other, but who also don’t have strong feelings for each other until after they’ve been pretending to. I love the humor and teamwork the couples in both books have. The friendly atmosphere makes the flirting more believable and enjoyable. Katee Robert and Carolyn Brown also make the small town in each story another character – either helping or trying to block the success of the fake romance.
“I don’t feel phony anymore, because my feelings aren’t fake. Maybe this started as a ruse, but it’s turning into something else.” – THE REAL DEAL by Lauren Blakely
For me, THE REAL DEAL by Lauren Blakely is the ultimate “pretend romance-turned-real” story. Theo banks advertises his services as a fake date, fiancé, etc. on Craigslist and is very straightforward about what he does. The chemistry between April and Theo is amazeballs and their courtship over the course of a zany family reunion is a total treat for readers. Lauren Blakely expertly draws out the sexual tension as April and Theo unconsciously seduce each other. When two strangers meet and decide to pretend to be romantically involved, I think the author has to work overtime in order to create a reason the strangers would participate in something so outlandish while being somewhat believable. In THE WEDDING DATE by Kelly Eadon, Kate and James meet and experience a zing of attraction at their local gym, and it’s not until later that they realize they have a connection from the past. For me, Kate and James might as well as be strangers because the story focuses on the present and the past never really comes into play. ACCIDENTALLY IN LOVE WITH THE BIKER by Teri Anne Stanley and THE PERFECT BARGAIN by Jessa McAdams both have heroines who are visiting another town or country and have a wacky fake boyfriend scheme turn into the real deal. The Kelly Eadon story is more of a sweet and sexy blend with a few tears along the way. The Teri Anne Stanley story features a good-natured Las Vegas mechanic helping out a damsel in distress and the Jessa McAdams story features a hard-working Scottish hottie – both books made me laugh and swoon.
“What is your hurry? Why not stay and dance with me? And then marry me and live happily ever after with me?” – Duncan Pennethorne, AT LAST COMES LOVE by Mary Balogh
I think that a romance that starts out fake and evolves into a marriage of convenience is more likely to occur in historical romances – just because of the restrictions in the past. If a relationship didn’t work out in the 1800s it wasn’t as easy to just cut ties and walk away unscathed as it would be nowadays. The exception, and circumstances that are a close enough parallel, are when the hero or heroine in a contemporary are extremely wealthy or have some elevated status in the public eye. There is a merging of tropes when a story starts out as a fake romantic relationship and then, due to any number of convoluted scenarios winds up in a marriage of convenience. In ROMANCING THE COUNTESS by Ashley March, Sebastian Madinger, the Earl of Wriothesly and Leah George are two recent widowers done wrong by their cheating late spouses. For very tangled yet somewhat noble reasons, Sebastian entices Leah to put on the pretense of an affair. The battle of wills and unconventional seduction lead to Sebastian’s obsession with Leah, and his eventual begging Leah to enter into a marriage of convenience. The secrets and doubt both characters are plagued with elevate this story from farce to erotic entrapment. That both characters are seduced by each other as the story progresses is a favorite element of mine in fake relationship stories. AT LAST COMES LOVE by the always fabulous Mary Balogh is the first Mary Balogh book I read and it made me an instant fan. With one of the most stellar “meet cute” scenes ever, Duncan Pennethorne steamrolls into Margaret Huxtable’s life at the exactly perfect moment to offer himself as her pretend fiancé. In the limited time Duncan courts Margaret, while giving the impression he is besotted and has been for quite some time, it becomes more difficult for Margaret to say no to marriage even if she really wants to say no. Mary Balogh gives one or two villains for Margaret and Duncan to unite against and help the fiction become reality. The pragmatism and wit of both characters make AT LAST COMES LOVE such a delicious fake engagement story.
“I don’t want to pretend date you. I want to be with you. Because I think…I think I’m in love with you.” – #Moonstruck by Sariah Wilson
In contemporary romances, I think a marriage of convenience story veers into fake relationship territory when, like in THE BILLIONAIRE BACHELOR by Jessica Lemmon, the marriage is planned to last only a short duration and the couple tries to fool a specific person or group into believing the relationship is something that it’s not. As Reese and Merina put on increasing lavish displays of affection for the benefit of others, the erotic game they play leads them on a path of seduction they can’t come back from. In #Moonstruck by Sariah Wilson, rock star Ryan De Luna and rock star hopeful Maisy Harrison don’t enter into a fake marriage, but fake date and put on a show for publicity for their own reasons. Rather than any mercenary reasons, Maisy needs the money Ryan offers for her ill mother and to keep a home for her family. Although their initial meeting was a little prickly, they eventually see the good in each other and give in to their attraction. The lines between what’s real and what’s fake are quickly blurred.
“You could drive me mad quite easily – mad about you, mad for you, mad without you, and mad that I hadn’t met you sooner.” – Adam Griffin, THE REINVENTED MISS BLUEBEARD by Minda Webber
Because of how restrictive society was in the past, some authors of historical romance have gotten truly inventive with delightful results. ONE KISS FROM YOU by Christina Dodd contains more deception and misdirection than just a fake courtship. Shrewd tactician and devilishly sexy antihero Remington Knight thinks he’s captured a duchess, but he’s actually captured her often overlooked cousin. So not only is Remington part of a fake courtship, but the woman he’s courting is pretending to be somebody else. Christina Dodd creates some crazy chemistry and sexual tension as Remington and Eleanor circle each other slowly discover that their romance has turned real. STRANGER IN MY ARMS by Lisa Kleypas and A MATTER OF TEMPTATION by Lorraine Heath both involve fake relationships, but that has more to do with assumed identities and doppelgangers. My favorite take on the fake relationship trope is when a man or woman invents, for whatever reason, a fake spouse only to have the object of their imaginings surprise them one day as a flesh and blood person. The best examples of this type of story are THE REINVENTED MISS BLUEBEARD by Minda Webber, SOMETHING ABOUT EMMALINE by Elizabeth Boyle, and SCOUNDREL by Debra Dier. In THE REINVENTED MISS BLUEBEARD and SCOUNDREL, both heroines are surprised by men claiming to be their long lost husband, something they know to be untrue because no such person exists. Both heroes are very different but they are both equally unforgettable and delightful. Adam Griffin in THE REINVENTED MISS BLUEBEARD is a pirate and an incredible charmer and all-around nice guy, while Major Sheridan Blake in SCOUNDREL may be just as charming but is a military man rather than a pirate. The puns and intriguing paranormal elements, as well as the overall yumminess of the hero make THE REINVENTED MISS BLUEBEARD a favorite of mine. With SCOUNDREL, Debra Dier perfectly captures fabulous chemistry between the hero and heroine and the exquisite longing of both of them for their fake relationship to become real. In a desire to avoid marriage-minded misses, Baron Sedgwick in SOMETHING ABOUT EMMALINE creates a fictional wife who is supposedly safely tucked away somewhere neither seen nor heard. Discovering an actual woman playing the part is a huge shock, but it turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to him. I enjoyed Emmaline’s teasing and managing Alex’s life and the hilarity that ensues.
Fake romances-turned-real stories:
- MEANT TO BE by Denise A. Agnew
- AT LAST COMES LOVE by Mary Balogh
- HOT COWBOY NIGHTS by Carolyn Brown
- FOOLPROOF LOVE by Katee Robert
- DESPERATELY SEEKING SHAPESHIFTER by Jessica Sims
- WRONG BED REUNION by Candy Sloane
- A FRIENDLY ARRANGEMENT by Christine Warner
- EMERGENCY ENGAGEMENT by Samanthe Beck
- THE ONLY THING by Marie Harte
- THE WEDDING DATE by Kelly Eadon
- ACCIDENTALLY IN LOVE WITH THE BIKER by Teri Anne Stanley
- BEAUTY AND THE BOSS by Diane Alberts
- THE HOMETOWN HOAX by Heather Thurmeier
- THE ALPHA’S TEMPORARY MATE by Victoria Davies
- ONE WEEK WITH THE BEST MAN by Andrea Laurence
- ONE OF THESE NIGHTS by Kendra Leigh Castle
- IT’S A WONDERFUL WIFE by Janet Chapman
- I WANT YOU TO WANT ME by Erika Kelly
- THE PERFECT BARGAIN by Jessa McAdams
- THE REINVENTED MISS BLUEBEARD by Minda Webber
- SOMETHING ABOUT EMMALINE by Elizabeth Boyle
- SCOUNDREL by Debra Dier
- WRONG MAN, RIGHT KISS by Red Garnier
- BILLION DOLLAR COWBOY by Carolyn Brown
- EXCHANGING GROOMS by Terry Spear
- TWELVE DAYS OF LOVE by Tess MacKall
- HIGH STAKES by Erin McCarthy
- ONE KISS FROM YOU by Christina Dodd
- ROMANCING THE COUNTESS by Ashley March
- STRANGER IN MY ARMS by Lisa Kleypas