With his conservative cousin Lord Bradford as trustee of his fortune, Reeve, Earl of Cambridge, is caught in a fiscal bind. Reeve has accumulated large gambling debts and needs money. Bradford offers him an ultimatum: if Reeve marries, Bradford will release money to pay for his debts.
Not wanting to marry, Reeve devises a scheme. Explaining his problem to Deborah Woodley, a friend since childhood, he suggests that they pretend to be engaged. Deb at first is aghast, but she goes along with the pretense, though she worries that Bradford will see through their ploy. Deb feels that Reeves wildness can be tamed once he takes control of his money and his estates.
During their visit to Lord Bradfords home, Deb meets Reeves cousin Robert. The animosity between the two leaves her concerned for Reeves safety. Her apprehension is not unfounded, for it is almost too late before she realizes that she is also in jeopardy.
A blossoming love between two people, a harrowing escape from a deranged man and a tender subplot between two minor characters make THE PRETENDERS an enjoyable romance. SENSUAL (Feb., 344 pp., $6.50)