Even before Read Harder had a task for reading a book with an asexual or aromantic character, I had been on the lookout for a Romance featuring them. It was a niche within the larger Romance genre that I wanted to explore. With that in mind I had added Lucy Mason’s Ace of Hearts to my to-read list in October of last year. And then I waited, patiently (or not so patiently) for a publication date to be announced. Fast forward to this fall, and the book became available from NineStar Press, a publishing house that is a boutique publisher of quality LGBTQA romance, erotica, and literary fiction.
Ace of Hearts first caught my attention based on the bullet points it can be broken down into provided by its author: a pun-loving himbo, only 1 bed, childhood friends to lovers, fake dating/marriage of convenience. While that does an okay job of painting an appropriate picture, I have a minor nit to pick regarding classifying its male lead as a himbo (he’s a bit too serious for me to consider him one, but I’ll accept that he has a lot of the identifiers). Ace of Hearts is the story of Hesper Stallides and Felix Morlan who have been best friends for as long as they can remember. Growing up they bonded over their troubled home lives and together moved east to leave those lives behind for college. The book begins with Felix suffering a horrible sports injury which derails his professional athlete hopes and results in the loss of his scholarship. Hesper steps in, eventually offering a proposition: a year-long marriage of convenience so he can get free tuition at the college where she works to finish his degree. She doesn’t mention her selfish reasons for wanting to keep Felix close, even though a sexual relationship is not what she wants (nor is it what he expects).
Everything looks like it won’t be too complicated, until they fall in love. When Hesper reveals that she’s asexual, Felix must reassess everything he thinks about love, and ask himself what he’s willing to sacrifice for a future with Hesper—before the past she’s spent her life running from can take her away from him forever. I thought this book did a really good job of letting the reader into the headspaces of its two leads of seeing Hesper’s various emotional battlefields and also a view into her being a sex repulsed asexual. We also spend time with Felix as he weighs what that means, really, for the relationship he wants with Hesper. Mechanically there were times that the pacing was a bit off, where time jumps or leaps of thought happen without being denoted in any way on the page, but on the whole for as high stakes as parts of this book were, Mason does a good job of keeping it anchored in a believable reality. And Felix and Hesper are a great pair to read.
Content Warning: Abuse of an adult child by a parent, stalking/harassment, kidnapping/abduction, references to alcohol abuse, incarceration of a parent.