Buried Secrets

A Dedicated Scoundrel

Lady Hilary's Halloween

A Man of Affairs

 
Miss Prestwickís Crusade
by Anne Barbour
(Signet Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-20962-1
****
Veteran Regency author Anne Barbour takes to the pages with a refreshingly adult hero and heroine, wrapped in a story with plenty of originality. This is one of the best Regencies youíre likely to find this summer.

Miss Helen Prestwick arrives at Whitehouse Abbey with a female companion, a small bundle named William, and a big surprise for the resident Beresford family. Helenís sister, Beatrix, was secretly married in Portugal to the Beresford heir, Christopher. Now Christopher and Beatrix are both dead, and Helen has brought little William, the new heir, home to England.

The current Earl of Camberwell, Edward Beresford, is Christopherís cousin. Bookish, quiet, and content to live in the peaceful countryside, he is scorned by his fashionable Aunt Emily and cousin Artemis. Edward is stunned to feel a powerful interest in Miss Prestwick, and even though Helen cannot produce any marriage documentation yet, he agrees that William and Helen should remain at Whitehouse Abbey until the truth is established.

Helenís father is a renowned art expert, much sought-after by Portuguese and Spanish nobility. Helen trained under her father, and she instantly recognizes the value of some of the Beresford collection. In a move designed partly to keep Helen at Whitehouse Abbey, Edward asks her to catalogue the family holdings, a move that enrages Uncle Stamford, who fancies himself an art expert as well. Helen agrees to help. As the search for proof of Williamís legitimacy continues, Helen and Edward are drawn together. But Helen is hiding one secret from Edward...

Thankfully, itís not the question of Williamís birthright. Helen is not Williamís mother, she really is his aunt, and readers are spared the obvious. Instead, Helenís secret is much more an integral part of who she is. And when all is revealed, the author rises above the tried-and-true and actually has her characters work things out, in a way that not only resolves the dilemma but also brings them closer together on an emotional level. How I wish more authors would take this approach and realize that shared troubles, worked through without misunderstandings, false assumptions, or tantrums, strengthen a romantic relationship and make it much more believable. Here itís done to perfection. I wanted to stand up and cheer.

Helen and Edward are both interesting characters. The story takes place almost entirely at Whitehouse Abbey, no London social whirl involved, and this keeps the focus on the characters rather than outside events. Edward is every decent guy who canít stand artifice and prefers women with some substance. His interest is initially caught by Helenís face, but he soon finds heís even more intrigued by the intelligent, interesting woman behind it.

Helen, for her part, finds Edward equally attractive. This is the ďstuffy, boring stickĒ of a cousin that Christopher always derided? The natural affinity Helen feels for Edward is tempered by fear, however. What will happen when the truth of her journey emerges, as it must?

Clever use is made of the secondary characters. Uncle Stamford is a scheming bully, but Edward sees right through him and what could have been a series of clichťd false assumptions takes a different, delightful twist. Edward has made his mind up about Helen. Now all he has to do is win her, and loyalty is a big part of that. Even Aunt Emily and cousin Artemis revise their initial opinion of Helen as nothing more than a scheming fortune-hunter.

If there is one minor quibble, itís that the pacing seems to drag a bit in the middle of the story. The setup is terrific, the climax and resolution supremely satisfying, however, and make this story well worth a read.

Miss Prestwickís Crusade is a moving romance. Itís obvious the author cared about Edward and Helen. I guarantee you will, too.

--Cathy Sova


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