The Liar's Dice by Jeannie Lin
The Pingkang Li Mysteries, #2.5 (novella)
Lady Bai, called Wei-wei by her aristocratic family, has always been the perfectly obedient daughter--but only on the outside. Inwardly she dreams of freedom. When she dares to pay a forbidden visit to a public tea garden in men's clothing, only Gao looks close enough to notice her borrowed robes. Alas, looking closely at the enigmatic Gao tells Wei-wei only one thing: he's a scoundrel.
When the pair witness a fatal stabbing, Gao surprises her by staying at her side as she investigates the brutal crime. Together they uncover more secrets, somehow tied to her brother and the seedy gambling dens he's been visiting on the sly. Gao seems to know far too much about the brutal ways of the street, but Wei-wei is drawn to him and his habit of seeing through all her disguises.
Wei-wei revels in her newfound independence and her growing feelings for her mysterious companion, but all too soon she's faced with a cruel choice -- discover the truth and bring the killer to justice, or protect her family at all costs.
A lovely short read for a character I'd been interested in since the first book. Wei-wei is wonderfully crafted to be smart, bold, and beyond her times; while at the same time she's unassuming enough to understand her own faults. I wish the "disguised as a man" part of the story would have been a bit more fleshed out, since it is one of the classic romance tropes I love; but as a novella, I suppose it'll have to do.
The romance in this novella was understated, with the focus being more on Wei-wei's self-revelations about herself and her role in her family. I would love to see more of Wei-wei and Gao, as their relationship is one that would definitely be disapproved of enough in the traditional, historical Chinese sense to be an interesting development if allowed to progress.