In the Arms of a Marquess
by Katharine Ashe
(Avon, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-06-196565-4
Miss Octavia Pierce, age sixteen, has been sent to India to live with her aunt and uncle. Octavia is delighted with this foreign country, but barely off the boat, she is grabbed by a couple of villainous types who threaten her with a dagger. A young man on horseback, to whom she feels an instant attraction, saves her. Over the next two years, she gets to know him. He's Benjirou, third son of an English marquess by his Indian wife. Tavy and Ben share one passionate interlude, but their young love is no match for Tavy's disapproving relations.

When Tavy is twenty-five, she returns to England to live with her sister and brother-in-law, bringing an Indian manservant and a pet monkey. Marcus Crispin, a baron, is seemingly smitten with Tavy and proposes marriage. Tavy is hesitant, particularly when she overhears Marcus being threatened. Something to do with shipping. Only one man can help her - the Marquess of Doree, none other than her old flame, Ben. He has made a fortune in shipping and must know something.

Ben has kept tabs on Tavy for the past seven years. He has never forgotten her, or forgiven her for not protesting when her aunt accused him of being a low-born fortune hunter. Now their paths cross when Tavy come to him for help in discovering who is threatening Marcus. Tavy doesn't love Marcus and isn't sure she will marry him, but he has been a friend and she'd like to help him. Ben still makes her heart race, and she seems to have the same effect on him. So why does he push her away?

Why, indeed. Tavy and Ben are two likable characters, and the premise is quite original, but the conflict is paper-thin. Ben is wealthy, titled, and Society doesn't seem to care that his mother was Indian. Tavy is of genteel birth, but by no means his equal in rank. Yet he spends most of the book telling himself that he's not good enough for Tavy. Huh?

Tavy ends up at a house party at Ben's estate, and when Marcus forces the issue and announces their engagement, she decides not to tell Ben it's a sham. This leads to predictable misunderstandings. Frankly, I've read this plot before. This is a story where everything could be cleared up with one short conversation, but instead the reader gets several hundred pages of "I'm not good enough for her" and "Why should I tell him the truth?" Sigh.

There is a subplot involving the shipping of women to India, perhaps for unsavory purposes, and Marcus has a secret of his own, which came as a surprise. But the interesting premise is bogged down by too many tired plot points. In the Arms of a Marquess isn't one I can recommend.

--Cathy Sova

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