A Tangled Web by Donna Bell
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6795-X
A Tangled Web is a most acceptable Regency romance that misses a four heart rating simply because I was too able to put it aside when life intruded. However, whenever I got around to picking it up again, I found myself smiling at the antics of the heroine, Sincerity Hartford.

I assume that this is the third book in a trilogy about the very inaptly named Hartford sisters: Chastity, Tranquility and Sincerity. I can only assume that the first was less than chaste, the second far from tranquil, and the third - well let’s say she proves herself a mistress of insincerity as she tries to outwit her determined mother, the most un-divine Divinity.

Sincerity has been out for a number of years and has had any number of suitors. But she has refused them all; she wants love, not a stifling proper marriage. After all, both her sisters achieved this goal, against the strong opposition of strong-minded Divinity. When Sincerity rejects still another eligible parti, her mother decides to banish her first to the family estate and then to her Aunt Prudence’s residence in Bath.

Before this plan can be put into effect, a letter arrives from Aunt Prudence’s solicitor, informing Lord Hartford of that lady’s demise and of the fact that she has left her fortune to her only unmarried niece, Sincerity. Sincerity intercepts the letter and devises a plan: she and her beloved companion Miss Cobb, will set off for Bath without telling Lord and Lady Hartford of her aunt’s death. As Aunt Prudence’s heiress, Sincerity will be able to establish herself in her new home, at least for a while. That carrying out this plan requires forging letters and not telling Miss Cobb what’s going on causes Sincerity a moment’s concern. But she will do anything to get away from her overbearing, unpleasant Mama.

Thus, Sincerity heads off to Bath and, after some difficulty, establishes her identity as the heiress. But she needs to do something more to keep her mother at bay. She needs a suitor. So she writes her parents that she has met Sir S_ whom she thinks might do quite well. That the mythical Sir S_ is modeled on Sir Simon McKendrick, whom she has met and admired, seems a minor concern, until Lord and Lady Hartford announce they are coming to Bath.

Sir Simon is a former soldier who joined the army after his young wife died. He has no intention of marrying again and his first impressions of Sincerity are not completely favorable. But when she describes her plight to him, what can a gentleman do but come to her rescue and pretend to be her suitor. After all, Sincerity assures him that she has no wish to wed and their sham courtship will save him from the very determined pursuit of another lady.

A Tangled Web is a light and lively Regency romance. I had a bit of trouble with the character and behavior of Sincerity. She is described as being twenty-three, but mostly seems much younger. Also, given the mourning practices of the time, it us unlikely that Sincerity would be dancing the night away at the Assembly Room within a couple of weeks of her aunt’s death. At least six weeks of “black gloves” would have been considered proper, especially for the niece who was Aunt Prue’s heiress.

Sir Simon was a satisfactory hero, a man not looking to fall in love again but who is taken by Sincerity’s beauty and lively spirits. The two seem like a good match for his steadiness needs her vivacity and vice versa.

All in all, A Tangled Web is an enjoyable if not compelling Regency romance.

--Jean Mason

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