An Unlikely Alliance
by Patricia Bray
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6009-2
***
An Unlikely Alliance is a pleasant Regency, with a somewhat unusual heroine and plot that kept me entertained for a couple of hours but did not stand out enough to lead me to recommend it unreservedly. Still, devoted Regency fans might well enjoy Patricia Bray's second Regency romance.

The story begins with the hero, Alexander Maxwell, Earl of Kerrigan's arrival at a soiree at his good friends' house. Lady Stanthorpe has a reputation for interesting entertainments and tonight's do is no exception. Although Alexander would rather retreat to the card room and talk trade and politics with his host and friends (Kerrigan has made a fortune in the India trade), he feels compelled to circulate among the guests.

Lady Stanthorpe's party theme is centered on a gypsy fortune teller, and Alexander watches as the "gypsy" rather clumsily tries to manipulate the tarot cards to make sure that the guests get the fortunes they want. When one gentleman asks about an upcoming horse race, in which Alexander's horse Foolish Pride is favored, the gypsy means to predict the horse's victory. Instead, she mistakenly turns over a card that predicts Foolish Pride's defeat.

The gypsy is no gypsy; rather she is a young woman, a former seamstress, who is filling in for the injured Madame Zoltana. It is a way for Magda Beaumont to earn some much needed money for she has been sick and lost her job. Her mother was a noted seer, but Magda has none of her talent. Still, she can talk the talk for an evening. Unfortunately, her prediction about the horse race destroys her credibility with the fickle crowd at the soiree.

Alexander remembers the "gypsy" girl when Foolish Pride does indeed lose the race because he has been tampered with. He wonders if she was part of the plot and begins to try to find her. Discovering that she has contacts in Covent Garden, he waits to waylay her, only to discover a terrified and injured Magda searching for a place to hide. It turns out that someone had tried to kidnap Magda as she was going to another engagement as the gypsy.

Alexander tends Magda's wounds and begins to wonder if she is indeed involved in some nefarious dealings. When his own Bow Street Runner vouches for her story, having known her émigré mother, Alexander concludes that Magda is indeed innocent. But who wanted to kidnap her? And when another attempt on her life is made a few days later, Alexander sets out to discover who the villain is and whether there is a connection between the two cases.

And as Alexander and Magda spend time together, well, can an earl and a seamstress find love and happiness in Regency England?

As I indicated earlier, this is a pleasant book. They mystery is pretty straightforward but handled well. Brady gets the Regency setting just about right. There are some nice humorous touches with Lady Stanthorpe. Why then am I not recommending it?

Basically, there is nothing to set An Unlikely Alliance apart from any other Regency romance. There is very little depth, either in characterization or plot. And the writing is pretty simplistic. Yet I am not warning anyone against An Unlikely Alliance. A perfectly acceptable Regency romance that fans of the genre may well enjoy.

--Jean Mason


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