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When We Meet Again
by Victoria Alexander
(Avon, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-059319-9
***
When We Meet Again is the latest in a long string of novels featuring characters from the Effington family. In this latest installment, we meet Lady Pamela Effington, who fled from a scandal at the age of seventeen when she lost her virginity to a rakehell viscount. The prologue finds Pamela in Venice, where she meets Prince Alexei Pruzinsky of Avalonia at a masked ball and decides to have a glorious one-night affair with him. This night leaves them both rather shaken by the depth of their feelings, but they part with Alexei neither knowing Pamelaís name nor getting a good look at her face in the dark.

Four years later, Pamela has unexpectedly inherited a London townhouse. Wit her Aunt Millicent and cousin Clarissa, Pamela arrives to take up residence only to find that the house has been leased to none other than Alexei, now in exile after the annexation of his country by Russia. Alexei is temporarily short of funds, his accounts being tied up at the bank. He refuses to give up the lease, and Pamela insists sheís moving in. Aunt Millicent senses the undercurrents between the two and suggests they form a false engagement, allowing Alexei and his servants to share the house. Alexei will bring Pamela back into Society on the arm of royalty, and when they dissolve the engagement, other men will gladly court her.

Pamela recognizes Alexei at once, of course, but Alexei is only tantalized Ė at first. As they spend time together and get to know one another, their attraction deepens, and the author chooses to do this through time and conversation, rather than instant lust (though the sparks are definitely there). Itís a clever means of establishing a relationship, and the end result is the reader will believe itís for keeps.

Pamela and Alexei tell themselves theyíll be mature and practical about their sham engagement, and neither will lose their heart. Pamela isnít about to repeat the mistakes she made at seventeen, and Alexei doesnít believe in love. When Pamelaís former lover shows up, however, Alexei must deal with an uncomfortable truth: heís fallen in love with the woman he now knows was his Venetian lover.

Pamela and Alexei are both refreshingly adult in their demeanor. There are no big misunderstandings, no contrivances to keep them apart. Pamela is believable in her unwillingness to risk her heart, but the big clunker in this story was Alexeiís motivation. Itís just too thin to stand up to much scrutiny. Alexei refuses to fall in love because he canít subject any woman to a life of disgrace in exile, etc. My question was: ďWhy not?Ē Heís a wealthy, titled nobleman who abdicated his throne for the good of his people, and all of Londonís doors are open to him. Itís hardly a life of shame. Yet Alexei clings to his ďI canít offer her anythingĒ attitude for so long that itís no longer believable, and it ends up feeling like a contrivance so the author can spin the story out and make her page count.

The secondary characters have a few romances, too, and the introduction of an evil cousin, Valentina, may be setting up the next book. Actually, Valentina claims to have reformed Ė but is she telling the truth? Fans of the Effington series may want to watch for her story. If youíve been following the series, many previous characters pop up; though you can read this book on its own, youíll be scratching your head at some of them.

Two lively leads, an interesting setup, and a story that eventually seems to drag make for an acceptable read, but not one Iíll likely remember in a month. Maybe if Iíd read many of the other books in this series, Iíd feel differently. My advice is to use your own past reading experiences to guide you.

--Cathy Sova


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