Her Highness, My Wife
by Victoria Alexander
(Avon, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-000144-5
Throughout this book I felt as though I was on a long, slow journey in a very small vehicle with two people who could scarcely draw breath without bickering, except for the occasional cease-fire to indulge their rampaging hormones. I did not enjoy the trip.

Princess Tatiana Marguerite Nadia Pruzinsky of the Kingdom of Greater Avalonia has come to England to find the Heavens of Avalonia, a set of fabulous jewels set in a golden cuff. They symbolize the right of Tatiana’s family to rule and, as hereditary princess, it is her right to wear them and her responsibility to take care of them. p> Unfortunately, Tatiana has discovered that the Heavens in her possession are fakes; the originals left Greater Avalonia with the last hereditary princess, Sophia, when she fled to England for her own safety during an attempted coup.

For help in finding the jewels, Tatiana approaches Lord Matthew Weston, the youngest son of a marquess and the man with whom she shared six blissful days and nights of love in Paris, fifteen months, three weeks and four days ago. The two married in a civil ceremony, but their idyll ended when Tatiana disappeared, leaving only a cryptic note saying that she had “responsibilities and obligations” she could no longer ignore and that she would have the marriage annulled.

Now, she asks Matt to pretend that they’re married so she can approach the members of the English aristocracy she thinks might have information about Sophia. The subterfuge is necessary, of course, because she’s concerned that dealing with a minor princess from a little country from somewhere in central Europe will intimidate the dowagers of some of England’s most powerful families.

To sweeten the deal, Tatiana offers him money to help her. Matt, who is estranged from his family and living meagerly on what he can make as an inventor, certainly looks like he could use the cash to further his work. He tells her that he wouldn’t touch her money, though, and tells himself that he’ll go along with a plan he knows is idiotic because it will “allow him to finally put the past to rest, to finish that unfinished task. But this time it would be on his terms, not hers. This time, if anyone left it would be him. This time, his heart would play no role.”

So, of course, right away you know exactly what’s going to happen.

I learned to dislike these characters early, Tatiana in particular. First of all, she’s an indiscriminate and unrepentant liar. She lies about everything, not just her reasons for being in England. She invents a complicated story about toasting journeys with Avalonian brandy to justify dosing herself to sleep with the stuff every time she gets into a carriage. Why was it a problem to simply admit she suffers from motion sickness?

In fact, there is scarcely a moment of the story when Tatiana’s pants are not on fire - it’s a wonder Matt doesn’t suffocate in the clouds of smoke. And, of course, since she’s a liar herself, she assumes that Matt is dishonest as well. She claims she loves him - but she can’t trust him because she thinks he’s with her for the money. The money she offered him.

Desperate to hide their true feelings, the two are constantly manipulating and maneuvering for the upper hand. They snipe constantly at each other, frequently speaking in thinly disguised metaphors to score points, then mentally congratulate themselves on their ingenuity on outsmarting each other. I didn’t find it romantic and I certainly didn’t find it fun.

Because they are so childish and self-absorbed, and because I didn’t believe in their “love,” I found their desire for each other unmoving as well.

This, in combination with gaps in logic that were clearly contrived by the author to keep the story going rather than demonstrate the intelligence or emotional depth of the characters, made the whole thing more frustrating than satisfying.

If I’d had these two squabbling children in front of me, I’d have sent them to their rooms until they grew up.

--Judi McKee

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