Titles: Not So Fake, Not So Innocent & Not So Nice
Series: The Real Thing: Books One thru Three
Author: Emma Lyon
Publisher: Amazon/Kindle Unlimited
Length: 157 Pages, 156 Pages, 215 Pages
Category: Contemporary Romance
Ratings: 4 Stars, 3.5 Stars, 3 Stars
At a Glance: There are grand romantic declarations and gestures aplenty in the wrap-up of each of these books, and I enjoyed the reading despite a few hiccups along the way. Familiar and comfortable are two words that describe them most succinctly.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurbs: Not So Fake: Lane
As the son of a Congressman running for Senate, the last thing I need is to cause scandal for my father. But when I need a date to my ex-boyfriend’s wedding, a friend convinces me to use a dating service. Who’s going to know?
What I didn’t expect was a blisteringly hot fake boyfriend I can’t stop thinking about. Zach is handsome, charming, and makes my heart race, and when one date turns into two, it suddenly doesn’t feel so fake. But my last boyfriend ended up married to someone else. I’m not sure I’m ready to take another chance on love so soon.
All I wanted was to make enough money to put myself through law school. If working for a dating service helps me do that, who cares if I’m dating guys for money? It’s not like I have time for the real thing. But the more time I spend with Lane, the more my plans fly out the window. He’s beautiful, smart, and sexy as hell. Our relationship might be fake, but everything about us feels real. But his father’s position makes things a whole lot more complicated.
Complicated wasn’t the plan, and a real relationship was never part of the deal. But I’m starting to think Lane is worth it. When our lies finally catch up with us, it’s either play it safe or take a chance on the real thing.
Not So Innocent: Holden
That’s the first thing I think when I see Ethan Garrett—young, beautiful Ethan Garrett, son of Senator Garrett, the man I’ve been hired to protect. Did I mention young? Not that Ethan sees himself that way. Nearly twenty-three and fresh out of college, he thinks he knows what men like me are like. But the thoughts I have about him aren’t anywhere near innocent or nice.
Indulging a secret romance while trying to do my job can’t possibly end well, but Ethan’s made no secret that he’s put his sights on me. And I’m fast discovering that what Ethan wants, he finds a way to get.
I don’t want nice, and I’m sure as hell not innocent. I don’t care that Holden thinks he’s too old for me—he’s the only one who doesn’t see me as a failure. And with my family in danger, he makes me feel safe. But there’s nothing safe about the way I’m starting to fall for him.
He might be leaving as soon as his job is done, but until then I’m not letting his hangups stand in our way. I’ll take whatever I can get from him, even if he breaks my heart.
Not So Nice: Ryan
For the last year and a half, Nathan Graham has been the bane of my existence. Demanding. Unpredictable. Stupidly handsome. As his personal assistant, I’ve been part of almost every aspect of his life. I’m the one sending apology flowers to his one-night stands. The one he calls late at night. The one wondering why I was dumb enough to fall in love with someone who will only ever see me as his assistant.
I’m not sure how much more I can take. Especially when he involves me in his convoluted plans. Fake dating? Worst idea ever. I only wish I didn’t secretly like it so much. But being in love with Graham is the surest path to heartache I know.
My reputation is keeping me from closing the deal of the year, and to get what I want I have to show how committed I can be. Putting my personal assistant Ryan forward as my boyfriend at an upcoming tech summit should do the trick, even if it’s fake.
The only problem is Ryan. Because lately I can’t stop thinking about him. He’s always been my kryptonite, whether he knows it or not, but I know I’ll only end up ruining him. There’s a reason I don’t do relationships. I can’t afford to let my feelings for him stand in my way.
Then again, I’m a brilliant handsome billionaire boss. Why can’t I have it all?
Review: Fans of the fake boyfriends-to-lovers and close/forced proximity tropes are served a heaping portion of them in Emma Lyon’s Not So Fake, Not So Innocent, and Not So Nice. Not So Fake and Not So Innocent are set on the fringes of Washington politics, introducing the sons of a politician running for Congress, while Not So Nice delves into an office romance between an aloof billionaire and his sweet, ultra-competent and overworked personal assistant.
Each book in the series is written to stand alone, with the featured characters being introduced in the previous book. I would, however, say that since the author leans heavily into her tropes, not to mention a fair amount of sex to build the relationships between her characters, that reading the books in order is somewhat of an advantage.
The Garrett brothers are featured in Not So Fake and Not So Innocent. Lane’s romance springs from the fake boyfriends trope in Not So Fake, when he hires an escort to be his plus-one at his ex-boyfriend’s wedding. It goes so well there was little doubt they could build something real from the way they connected and the attraction they felt for each other. When Lane hires Zach again for a political function, and then once again for a weekend away with his family, the line that begins to blur between Zach merely doing his job and him wanting desperately to be there with Lane because he’s beginning to have feelings for him follows the formula to a T.
The template is set for a little third act tension when, perhaps inevitably, Lane’s father discovers Zach is an escort—not a sex worker but a paid companion—and, of course, jumps to the immediate, expected conclusion that Zach isn’t good enough for Lane. Whether he does this to protect his son or to protect his own political reputation in the runup to the election—likely a bit of both—is dealt with, with little fanfare or drama to prolong the imminent happily ever after. Lane and Zach are earnest and gentle and affectionate with each other, and their sweet and straightforward story won me over. Their book is by far my favorite of the three. ~ 4 Stars
Ethan Garrett is introduced in his big brother Lane’s book, as a disaffected twenty-one-year-old who’s graduated from college and moved back in with his parents because he has no idea what he wants to do with the rest of his life. He was mostly there to be sullen and snarky, but he did play a role in making sure Lane and Zach got their HEA. Fast-forward a year, to Not So Innocent, and not a lot has changed in Ethan’s life. He’s still jobless, still living with his parents, still pretty surly, and now he’s got man trouble.
A bomb threat made against Ethan’s dad, the newly elected Senator Garrett, means round-the-clock security for the entire household. It also means we get a little forced proximity for Ethan and the hot guy he’d tried to pick up at a bar the night before when said hot guy coincidentally shows up on the Garretts’ doorstep to provide security. That man would be Holden James.
Ethan and Holden are pure, smoldering sexual attraction and can’t keep their hands off each other, which, of course, introduces the question for Holden of whether or not he should be having sex with the son of the man he’s meant to protect, and doing it under that man’s roof. Again, there isn’t a lot of relationship building here that doesn’t revolve around sex, and there could probably be some lines drawn between the age gap between Ethan and Holden, and Ethan’s contentious relationship with his father, but in the end, I liked them for each other. ~ 3.5 Stars
Ryan Blake is introduced as Ethan’s best friend in Not So Innocent. The fake boyfriends trope pops up again in his story, Not So Nice, when his billionaire playboy boss ask Ryan to pretend to be his boyfriend in order to help him close a lucrative deal with a game developer who doesn’t like Nathan Graham specifically because he goes through men like water through a sieve.
Nathan is typically self-absorbed and has no qualms about pestering Ryan in the middle of the night with inconsequential requests or asking Ryan to break things off with Nathan’s latest one-night-stand who didn’t get the memo that he was merely a one and done. Ryan is, for reasons that aren’t fully explored, head over heels in love with Nathan, and that gap in their relationship building isn’t resolved to any extent before their happily ever after. The biggest mistake in this book is that the author didn’t give Nathan any redeeming qualities for what should have been a redemption story since he’d taken Ryan for granted from page one.
Of course, it’s fully evident why Nathan loves Ryan, even though he’s hesitant to admit it. Ryan is the one person in Nathan’s life who understands and tolerates him and his behavior, and I think it would have gone a long way to making the story better if Nathan’s character were better fleshed out. He has a contentious relationship with his mother, but there’s no depth given to that beyond us knowing he doesn’t like or get along with her. We don’t get to see Nathan and Ryan together much before the trip on which Ryan will be playing boyfriend to Nathan, so again, a lot of the story builds from them having sex and planning a future together from there. That said, I liked Ryan enough to make up for the gaps in Nathan’s character development. ~ 3 Stars
There are grand romantic declarations and gestures aplenty in the wrap-up of each of the books, despite a few hiccups along the way. Familiar and comfortable are two words that describe them most succinctly. There are no unexpected surprises, no deep dives into the characters’ lives before they met, and no twists that made me question whether they would each get their happy ending, which isn’t a bad thing at all if what you’re looking for is something uncomplicated and heartfelt to pass some time with.
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