Notorious and Noble
by Janice Bennett, Judith A. Lansdowne, & Jeanne Savery
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6266-4
***
One of the most enduringly popular plots in Regency romance is the reforming of the rake. This anthology includes three novellas by three of Zebra's most popular authors about notorious noblemen who are reformed by love. While none is outstanding, each is a nice variation on this well-loved theme.

Janice Bennet provides the tale of a notorious rake who, while seeking to take advantage of a proper young lady, finds that love takes advantage of him. Lord Rivenhall, bored and restless, finds himself at a staid houseparty. High stakes gambling with a young cub results in the youth losing a fortune he can ill afford. His sister confronts Rivenhall in high dudgeon about his evil ways. In his cups, the rake offers Miss Amanda Grieves an infamous bargain: he will forgive her brother's debts if she will surrender her innocence. But he does offer an alternative. If she can complete an embroidery of a painting of Leda and the Swan within a week, then he will return the vowels.

Of course, in the interest of preventing Miss Grieves from completing her task, he spends as much time as possible with the spirited Amanda. And loses his heart in the bargain. A pleasant and entertaining tale.

Judith Lansdowne's contribution, "Fascination" was my favorite of the three. Miss Priscilla Pritkin has accompanied her sister Sarah to Hawkworth Aeirie. Lady Hawksworth's son, Lord Tolliver is courting the rich Miss Pritkin. A pleasant evening of dancing is rudely interrupted when the infamous Lord Hawksworth strides across the ballroom and floors his step-brother with two well placed punches.

Sarah is horrified that this nasty man had hurt her dear Tolly (he had good reason.) Priscilla is intrigued by this man who seems to share her own rebellions nature. Further acquaintance confirms Priscilla in her conviction that Hawk is the most interesting man she has ever met. For his part, Hawk is charmed by the outspoken Priscilla. But will the ever so proper Pritkins consider a notorious rogue a suitable match for their daughter? And who is the true rogue? The upstanding Lord Tolliver or the outrageous Hawk?

"Fascination" has a goodly share of Lansdowne's patented humor, high adventure and sweet romance. A very enjoyable read.

I suppose that Jeanne Savery's story was my least favorite of the three. Lord Brant has loved Miss Tenacious Smythe for years and wants to marry her. But, although Tenny and Locke grew up together, the young lady has given him the proverbial cold shoulder ever since her brother described his rakish ways. However, the appearance of a really bad rake places Tenny in danger and forces her to reevaluate her feelings for Locke.

This story had a bit too much of the dreaded "big misunderstanding" for me and I simply couldn't warm up to a heroine who, for all her good qualities, is all too willing to believe the worst of her friend. That Tenny also behaves very stupidly also caused me problems.

As I said earlier, Notorious and Noble is a pleasant enough collection of stories. If tales about the power of love to reform rakes is your cup of tea, then take this anthology along to the beach or the pool this summer.

--Jean Mason


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