Raye Morgan’s Counterfeit Princess, from 2003, is a contemporary romance featuring royalty from a pair of small fictional European kingdoms. Based on my experiences with this sub-genre (The Prince She Never Forgot, Accidental Princess), I was expecting a fun story, and this one started that way.
Shannon is a Texas waitress, working to pay off her mother’s medical bills and her art history training, so she’s happy to pick up a part-time job impersonating foreign princess Iliana, cutting ribbons while the real Iliana is partying in Vegas. The job becomes more intense when Prince Marco arrives to meet his diplomatically selected new bride, and the propinquity effect kicks in when Shannon must take refuge in Marco’s hotel suite to avoid the press.
So far, so good. Exactly why Iliana is in demand in Texas, to the point that she must be impersonated, is perhaps a plot hole, but we’ll let that slide. One might also question why no one seems to have noticed a popular princess partying in Vegas. When it comes to British royalty, what happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas.
Shannon’s secret is revealed relatively early, and she becomes the woman Marco cannot fall in love with, because of his agreement to marry Iliana. However, there is very little suspense over the outcome, because Iliana has already been revealed as completely unsuitable. To complicate matters, Marco is a widow, with two children by his deeply missed late wife. This adds cute kids and pathos, and means Marco must not only choose the right woman, but get over his late wife. The real princess shows up, and if there isn’t already too much going on, we toss in the wise servant, the all-knowing aunt, and some hard-to-accept coincidences that leave Shannon finding out that she’s actually royalty, a member of the same family as the missing princess. Shannon, feeling as manipulated as the reader, takes off.
The last chapter has Shannon arriving in the kingdom of her former lover and his fiancé, to take a job in her field. At least, that’s what Shannon apparently thinks, though why anyone, including the reader, would believe this, is a mystery.
Lots of nice moments here, good romantic tension, and sensuality without sex, though sometimes overwritten. When he kisses her, she thinks, among other things, “He tasted like thick buttery caramel. Well, not really, but the effect was the same.” This may have inspired the Fifty Shades of Grey line “His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel… or something.” However, after a strong start, there are too many coincidences and too much going on, and character growth is lost in the confusion.