The Brides of Christmas

The Christmas Cat

Devilish

The Devil's Heiress

The Dragon's Bride

Forbidden Magic

In Praise of Younger Men

Lord of Midnight

Secrets of the Night

The Shattered Rose

Something Wicked

Star of Wonder

An Unwilling Bride

 
Hazard by Jo Beverley
(Signet, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-20580-4
****
This story is for everyone who thought it a little harsh for Lady Anne Peckworth to be passed over by both Viscount Middlethorpe (Forbidden) and the Earl of Wyvern (The Dragonís Bride). Itís also a gift to those who mourn the day that ďhistoricalĒ Regencies stopped being romances about witty, intelligent characters and turned into crime dramas with Regency costumes and kinky sex.

Lady Anne, disappointed but not crushed by the defections of Middlethorpe and Wyvern, believes she could live contentedly without being married. She isnít certain, however, that she would be happy as the pitied and tolerated spinster sister. To find a husband Anne resolves to face a Season.

Sheís avoided it until now, partly because of her own natural reserve and partly because she was born with a twisted foot that causes her to limp. Itís more of a social handicap than a physical one - walking is awkward and dancing impossible so she tends to be sidelined at parties and balls.

As Anne works up the courage to brave London society, her brother arrives in the country with a friend, Racecombe de Vere. Slender, articulate, extremely well mannered and accommodating, and of dubious background in spite of an excellent war record, Anne immediately pegs Race as an adventurer. This makes him quite unsuitable as a potential husband, but an entirely acceptable subject upon whom to practice her rusty feminine wiles.

Race is only too happy to be of service. Heís been sent by the Company of Rogues to ensure that ďpoor AnneĒ has not suffered unduly from Middlethorpeís rejection. Rather than a pathetic cripple mourning her last hope of matrimony, Race is surprised and delighted to discover an active, intelligent and lovely young woman. It will be no hardship at all to help Anne find the confidence she needs although he must never forget that, as the daughter of a Duke, she is well above the touch of a tradesmanís son, no matter how polished.

Where many recent books of this period have been frantic adventures, Hazard is more like a lovely ramble. To begin with, there are lots of things to like about these two and itís nice to have the leisure in which to get to know them. Smart and insightful, itís a pleasure to eavesdrop on their conversations and their thoughts. Race, without overstepping propriety (well, not publicly, anyway), makes Anne feel daring - and even attractive. Anne soon begins to understand that there is much more to Race than meets the eye. They donít so much change each other as find each otherís hidden depths.

Yet each is constrained by the social conventions of the time - and Anne is further hampered by her pride. Conscious of both her station and her handicap, she is reluctant to have people think that she couldnít do any better than a commonly-born fortune hunter. It is, perhaps, not her most likable quality, but it is honest and makes her into a more real, multi-dimensional person. Ms. Beverley also uses her knack for the telling moment to good advantage. How could one not see the charm - and the humor - in a hero who, having firmly established his manly credentials, locks his bedroom door to avoid being compromised?

This wasnít a twenty-first century couple in nineteenth century clothes; these people lived and loved in the Regency and for a little while so did I.

My one real criticism of the book is that, for my taste, Anne and Race spend too much of the middle of it apart. Itís almost as if, while we were taking this pleasant walk, the characters wandered off for a bit. Some of what happens is certainly important to the story, but I felt as if these events were drawn out rather longer than necessary. It didnít take long to get the picture, and then it felt as though everything was on hold until the protagonists were together again - which I awaited with impatience.

The pace of the story picks up as Race and Anneís reunion approaches and the conclusion is as satisfying as I could have wished.

So do I recommend a stroll through Regency England with Race and Anne? Indeed I do.

--Judi McKee


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