A Perfect Rogue by Martine Berne
(Zebra, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-821-76848-4
Lord Damien Reston was enjoying a race in the country against Lord Essex when he suddenly has to forfeit the wager. While barreling down a country road in the remote town of Baldock, a waifish young woman suddenly throws herself in his path to retrieve a puppy thrown in the street by some local boys. A collision ensues, and fearing for the woman’s welfare, Damien spirits her to a local inn to recuperate.

Miss Caroline Smythe is an out of work governess who came to Baldock to seek employment. When her former employer’s son made unwanted advances towards her, Caroline was promptly blamed and dismissed. Despite the circumstances of their meeting, being looked after by the notorious rake, Lord Reston, has further tattered her reputation and her hopes of seeking employment in Baldock are dashed.

Damien, in a rare moment of kindness, suggests that Caroline return to his country estate of Windemere to be the paid companion of his younger sister, Lady Augusta. Having no other options, she accepts, and before long becomes in intricate part of the household, even joining Lady Augusta for the season in London. But even though her life is soon wrapped up with the ton, she cannot stop from daydreaming about the dashing Lord Reston.

Damien is equally entranced with Miss Smythe, but is already engaged to Miss Helen Manderlay, a beautiful society miss with numerous beaus. Besides, Caroline and Damien are from two different worlds, and just being his mistress would never be enough for Caroline. He knows that she would never be happy with anything less than a total commitment, and Damien fears that such a love could never be in the cards for him.

Damien and Caroline could be an admirable romantic couple, if they spent any time together. Damien is always off with friends or in solitude, while Caroline is cloistered with Lady Augusta. Besides their initially meeting, they share two brief encounters before they are declaring their love. I could buy their infatuation, but they spent so little time getting to know one another, true love was considerably harder to swallow.

With Damien and Caroline spending little to no time together, that leaves the majority of the 350 pages devoted to Regency society. If you are a reader who enjoys this sort of historical recounting of proper aristocratic behavior, than A Perfect Rogue will be your cup of tea. The text is one society party after another, with Lady Augusta and Caroline fitted for numerous dresses, taking in numerous callers, and sipping afternoon tea. While initially amusing to read about, I quickly became tired of this narrative, wishing instead for more romance and less of a social history lesson.

Damien is a rogue, hence the title of this novel, but he is far from perfect. Once Caroline realizes her love for him, she seems bound and determined to sacrifice herself on the altar of true love. She foregoes any possible happiness she might find (including marriage) to live her life in solitude. If she can’t have the hero, she wants no one. Nothing essentially wrong with this scenario except while Damien professes his love for Caroline he remains engaged to Miss Helen Manderlay. Caroline is all too ready to pine away for a man who, for a large portion of the novel, seems resigned to moving on with his life without her.

The glimmer of hope for this story came with the inclusion of Lady Augusta, an admirable woman on the verge of spinsterhood. Her forward manners, love of books, and feminist leanings, injected some life into this story that increasingly read like a Regency book on proper manners. She would have made an interesting romantic heroine in her own story.

Regency novels do have to have just the right amount of atmosphere for them to work, but in this case there was just too much. No matter how often I had to read about dress fittings, members of the royal family, ton gossip or Beau Brummel, it was not enough for me to look past the underdeveloped romance.

--Wendy Crutcher

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