Heiress in Love
by Christina Brooke
(St. Martin's, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0312-53412-7
***
This is part of a series about a group of aristocrats, the Ministry of Marriage, who go around arranging marriages. The Duke of Montford is the guardian for many children, some of whom are orphans and some of whom are illegitimate. He takes care of these children until they are grown and then marries them off, with the intent to protect their inheritances, if possible.

Jane Westruther was found at age eight and raised by Montford. At age 17, she married Frederick Black, the Lord of Roxdale. She brought a fortune to the marriage. It was not a good one. Jane has no children but has raised a little boy who was brought to the estate as a baby, supposedly the son of a relative who had died along with his wife. Caring for Luke was about the only thing Frederick agreed Jane could do well. When Frederick dies suddenly, Jane's life is left in limbo. Will the blackguard who will inherit allow her to keep Luke?

Constantine Black is the black sheep of the family. Years ago, he was accused of seducing a young miss and leaving her to take the blame. Her reputation ruined, she was forced to wed a tradesman, well below what everyone thought she would wed. Meanwhile, Constantine's family went against him, with his father refusing to speak to him, his mothers and sisters shunning him and Frederick never speaking to him again. Now he is set to inherit. Jane has the option of returning to the Duke of Montford, but she must get custody of Luke, a boy of six who fears loss of the only home he has known.

Jane and Con strike a deal. Jane will stay and wed him to give him some respectability and he will allow her to raise Luke. There are a lot of convoluted issues with the will and the reason why this makes sense. There are many players to add angst and tension and of course, barriers. There is Montford, who have vowed that Jane will not marry Con due to his past. There is Lady Arden, a distant relative of Con's who has ties to Montford who is pushing the marriage idea.

Frederick never paid any attention to Luke and having a man about has created opportunities for adventure. He too would like to see Jane and Con work things out. There is a secondary love interest - a neighbor who is a makes himself a candidate by his neighborliness, but soon becomes an adversary for Con due to some business dealings that show the neighbor as a man no one can trust.

There were times I truly enjoyed this story. The slowly building relationship between Con and Jane is the best part of the story. I am often a sucker for a hero with a bad reputation but the reality is something quite different. Constantine has many sides and while he is at times stubborn and acts stupidly, he is a good hero when all is said and done. Jane on the other hand, is harder to categorize. At times she is so naive, it is unbelievable. At other times, she is somber and acts much older than she is supposed to be. I never knew which Jane was going to show up and hence, it was more difficult liking her. The good thing was, I did like them together.

The whole Ministry of Marriage thing made no sense. Every once in a while there would be a meeting discussed or letters going back and forth to indicate some activity from this group. Then no mention would be made for many chapters, until references would show up once again. I assumed there was a previous story that really explained it, but my sense is that this is the first of the series, so one would have to stay tuned to get the full details. Heiress in Love was an acceptable tale, but nothing more.

--Shirley Lyons


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