Winning the lottery will change your life — and not always for the better, Zoe Ferris, the heroine of Kate Clayborn’s Luck of the Draw (Lyrical Shine, e-book), discovers soon after she and her two best friends hit the jackpot. Zoe, a corporate attorney who specializes in wrongful-death settlements, immediately quits her unrewarding job, only to discover that doing so isn’t enough to assuage her guilt over the work she did on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry. In search of peace, she decides to make amends for her sins, beginning with the family involved in one of her most memorable settlements. Enter Aiden O’Leary, grieving brother, who immediately calls Zoe on the self-absorbed, borderline narcissism of her apology — and presents her with a much more tangible way of making things right: Aiden needs a fake fiancee for six weeks while he embarks on his own quest to tackle his guilt over his brother’s death. In the hands of a lesser author, this setup could be preachy and heavy, but Clayborn’s characters are bright and nuanced, her dialogue quick and clever, and the world she builds warm and welcoming. Zoe and Aiden slide into love, healing themselves along the way.
Diana Quincy’s The Duke Who Ravished Me (Loveswept, e-book) is another long, slow tumble into love between unlikely partners: the libertine Duke of Sunderford (“Sunny”) and his new — and unwelcome — governess. Prim, proper Isabel Finch arrives with twin 7-year-old girls in tow, throwing the Duke’s life into chaos. Though Sunny instantly rejects his role as guardian and intends to send the trio packing — he rightly surmises that it will be difficult to keep up nightly bacchanals with children in residence — he is soon overwhelmed by the lot of them. For her part, Isabel is horrified by Sunny and his behavior but wary of rocking the boat, as she has her own secrets that could easily separate her from the children she loves beyond measure. Soon, however, Sunny finds himself consumed by his governess and her brash opinions (readers will cheer when she boldly calls him a misogynist), and a tentative truce becomes an unexpected friendship. Sunny finds that his old life doesn’t satisfy the way it once did and fears nothing will if it doesn’t come with Isabel and the girls. Quincy delivers a layered, lovely romance, with an ending that readers won’t see coming.
Secrets abound in Cat Sebastian’s Unmasked by the Marquess (Avon Impulse), which features the crusty, proper Marquess of Pembroke, Alistair de Lacey, who, eager to rectify the sins of his profligate father by seeing his younger brother, Gilbert, respectably matched. Things fall apart when Robert (“Robin”) Selby arrives from nowhere, eager for Gilbert to marry Selby’s sister. Alistair is instantly tempted by Robin, not realizing that he is in fact Charity Church, a servant of the Selby family who assumed the real Robert’s identity years earlier. The story is more nuanced than a traditional heroine-in-pants romance, however. Charity is non-binary, and the life she is able to live in disguise as Robin is more honest than any life she might have presenting as a woman, which she would have to do if she allowed herself to imagine a future with Alistair — a Marquess needs a Marchioness, after all. Sebastian gives readers a beautiful, emotional romance between two people who are thoroughly perfect for each other; Alistair’s response to Robin’s revelations is as powerful and poignant as the couple’s happily ever after is triumphant.
Sarah MacLean is the author of historical romance. Her novel “Wicked and the Wallflower” will be published in June.