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Sweet Deception
by Heather Snow
(Signet, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0451237606
Sweet Deception, Heather Snow’s sophomore effort, is an entertaining read with a nicely convoluted plot. Derick Aveline has returned to his Derbyshire estate for the first time in fourteen years. Derick is half-French, spies for the British, and doesn’t feel at home in either country. As soon as he can ferret out the identity of a traitor selling Crown secrets, he’ll be off to America, never to return.

Upon his arrival, he’s dumbfounded to find Miss Emma Wallingford in his kitchen, ordering the servants around like an army general. It seems that a maid has disappeared, and Emma is organizing the search. When Derick offers his help, she rebuffs him, even though every pair of hands is useful. Then Emma attempts to ride off alone, on a dark and rainy night, to search near a flood-swollen river. Luckily for Emma, Derick finds this as idiotic as I did and insists on accompanying her. The discovery of the missing Molly, dead with a broken neck, confirms Emma’s fears that there is a killer loose in the neighborhood.

Derick has uncovered some painful secrets about his family, and the death of his mother by her own hand is one reason he hoped to never set foot in Derbyshire again. Instead, he’s back at the family home looking for a traitor, and the prime suspect is Emma’s own brother, who is the local magistrate. Emma knows differently. Her brother is incapacitated and it’s Emma who has been acting as magistrate for several years. She doesn’t want or need Derick’s help, she insists. Their past is another complication; Derick was Emma’s girlhood crush, one she’s never gotten over. Emma has grown up from the pesky girl who once dogged his footsteps, and Derick doesn’t quite know how to handle it.

Derick insists on helping Emma, for several reasons; one, he possesses an uncanny gift for interrogation; two, the sooner he finds the traitor, the sooner he can shake the dust of Derbyshire from his heels; and three, he’s unwillingly fascinated by Emma. But he knows he’ll soon be moving on and doesn’t want any entanglements.

Emma sets out to seduce Derick and convince him he can stay in Derbyshire. Derick is happy to succumb, but then feels guilty because he doesn’t want to stay, and he knows Emma won’t leave her brother. Meanwhile, several more dead bodies turn up.

Sweet Deception is a nicely steamy romance and a satisfying mystery. Emma is somewhat of an awkward geek, in that she’s certainly intelligent, but occasionally lacking in common sense. She’s also prone to malapropisms, which didn’t always come across as adorably funny. Readers will either like her or find her slightly irritating. Derick is a decent hero, and I liked that he fell hard for Emma. A revelation about his family has him examining his identity, and he’s decided his only option is to leave England for good. His insistence on running off to America might not wear well; there’s no reason he can’t change his mind, other than he doesn’t particularly want to deviate from his planned script. It will take a near-tragedy to get him to see otherwise, and by then, readers might be a bit exasperated with him.

The mystery twists its way through the story, and is convoluted enough that readers won’t see all of it coming. All in all, Sweet Deception offers a satisfying romance and an intriguing story; it’s a worthy follow-up to the author’s top-notch debut, Sweet Enemy.

--Cathy Sova

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