What’s not to love about con-artist romance heroes?

True Pretenses by Rose Lerner.

Rose Lerner, author of True Pretenses (out Jan. 13), book two in her Lively St. Lemeston series, knows why we love our con-artist heroes and heroines. Leverage, anyone?

Rose: There’s a lot to love about con artists as romantic protagonists. For me, I think the best part is watching the line between real and fake blur as the romance develops, and the weird layers that build up (like a puff pastry dough of lies and truth!) When a habitual liar tries to be honest. And it’s uniquely delicious when a character who has deliberately shut himself off from meaningful relationships uses a pretended closeness as an excuse to express real feelings — I loved exploring that in my historical romance True Pretenses, in which a philanthropist heiress makes a deal with a Jewish con artist: They marry, she gets control over her dowry, and he gets a cut.

My current favorite conning couple is Nate and Sophie from the TV show Leverage. Members of a team that heists for great justice, they’re two profoundly lonely people who realize (after a fantastic slow burn) that despite their control issues, fears of intimacy and tendency to lie whenever it’s convenient, they can trust each other in the ways that matter — and that they don’t have to become entirely different people first, either. (Bonus: I’m having a big con-artist-themed giveaway at my blog. Prizes include season one of Leverage.).

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The icing on the cake is that from episode one, Nate and Sophie not only have great chemistry but really are friends and enjoy each other’s company. I happened to pause an episode recently at a moment when he was watching her and had to take a timeout to swoon over the look on his face: undisguised affection mixed with wonder that such a magnificent being could actually exist.

The cherry on top (continuing with pastry metaphors) is that in the course of their heists they frequently pretend to be involved or married, all while sorting out their own feelings for each other.

I asked a few other authors to chime in with their faves. Elizabeth Boyle, author of Something About Emmaline (in which a rake who dodges matchmaking mamas by pretending he’s married discovers that a con woman is passing herself off as his nonexistent wife — and sending him her dressmakers’ bills!), Says, “It isn’t so much a love story — well, in some ways it is — and that is all part of the con as well, but I just absolutely adore the movie A Big Hand for the Little Lady. It’s an old movie, a Western set in a stagecoach rest-over and it is all about a big card game that happens once a year and a couple traveling West who get swept up in the game. It is a wonderful con — so interwoven that you have no idea where it is going to fall — I think that is the pin in a good con — you really have no idea what is about to happen. If you have never watched this movie — find it, pop some corn and enjoy.”.

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Zoe Archer’s historical romance series Nemesis: Unlimited (“When you need justice, and no one is willing to help, Nemesis, Unlimited delivers vengeance — at any cost”) was partly inspired by Leverage. She says, “One of my favorite romances is Judith Ivory’s The Proposition. It’s a Pygmalion story with the genders reversed. Lady Edwina Bollash teaches elocution and deportment. She’s tasked by twin lords to turn Mick Tremore from a lowly ratcatcher into a gentleman who can pass for a long-lost heir. Naturally, Edwina and Mick discover there’s much more to each other than they initially thought, and while the two practice to deceive, the desire between them is genuine. Ivory’s prose is lyrical and her characters three-dimensional. She was one of the first romance authors who revealed to me how much depth and complexity the genre can have. I have a very small keeper shelf, but pride of place belongs to The Proposition.”.

The hero of Louisa Edwards’ Just One Taste (from her Recipe for Love series, set in professional kitchens) grew up grifting with his father and is now trying to go straight, but he can’t resist trying to con his adorkable Food Chemistry professor into giving him a higher grade. She says, “Con artists make great romance heroes because there’s so much inherent conflict! Lies, betrayal and the always interesting themes of identity as the con man (or woman) struggles to separate who they are from who they pretend to be — I have a real weakness for stories like that. The first I remember falling for is Mary Jo Putney’s Angel Rogue, in which ex-spy Robin captivated me with his charm, his way with disguises and his deep sense of being unworthy of the straightforward, honest heroine. These days, I get my con artist fix by watching White Collar and swooning over slippery, deceptive, incredibly good-looking Neal Caffrey. I’m addicted to the moments when the mask falls away and you see the truth of the man beneath — when he wants something or feels something so intensely, he can no longer hide it. What could be sexier than that?”.

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Do you like con artist romance? What’s your favorite?

P.S.: The first Lively St. Lemeston book, Sweet Disorder, is 99 cents at all retailers through Jan. 20.

Find out more about Rose and her books at www.Roselerner.Com.

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