Love Me Again by Wendy Burge
(Zebra, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-74492
Wendy Burge’s debut romance hides an intriguing premise under two very ill-advised characterizations. The plot of “married lovers who are separated and find their way back to each other” can be one of the most satisfying for romance lovers, but here, I ended with the feeling they should never have gotten back together.

Archduke Varek of Austenburg is forced to set aside his beloved wife, Christina, after her sixth miscarriage. The grand duchy needs an heir from its ruler, or Varek will be set aside and the throne will fall into the unsavory hands of his chamberlain, Roget, and his henchmen. Varek divorces Christina and weds another woman, who gives him a daughter and promptly dies. Christina, meanwhile, runs away to England rather than live in proximity to Varek and his new bride. She eventually marries Robert St. Pole, brother of a duke, and bears him a healthy son. He knows nothing of her past.

Six years after the divorce, Robert is called to the Congress of Vienna and Christina decides to accompany him, though she knows she risks running into Varek again. Sure enough, they meet almost immediately and Varek is incensed. How dare she marry another man? Why didn’t she wait for him? Christina and Varek can’t forget that they once loved each other with all their hearts. That flame still burns. But she is married to another man, and if she leaves Robert behind, she will have to give up her rights to her little boy as well.

Varek contrives to meet up with Christina whenever possible. Soon Robert learns of their past history, and when there is an attempt on Varek’s life, Robert is a suspect. Savvy readers will figure out this subplot immediately, as well as the “mystery” of how Christina could suffer six miscarriages in a row and then give birth to a healthy baby on her first try with another man.

This might have been an outstanding romance if Varek and Christina and been allowed to act as tender lovers trying to find their way out of a near-hopeless situation. Instead, Varek’s “passion” for Christina is cloaked under some of the ugliest, most selfish behavior in recent romance history. He berates Christina for running away and not waiting for him, yet he’s been whoring around with a series of mistresses since the death of his second wife and has, in fact, brought the latest version to Vienna with him. He taunts her, declares his undying love for her, and vents his anger on her when things aren’t going his way. Varek is a master at brooding, sulking, and blaming; as a romantic lead, he falls flat. This isn’t love. This is a guy who wants it all his own way, especially the hot sex.

Christina, for her part, is merely a weathervane for Varek’s passions. Her indecisiveness makes her appear weak, simply a woman willing to be carried along on the tide of events rather than trying to find a way back to her one true love. What she really needed was to get angry, really angry, with Varek and tell him off. A verbal slap in the face and a comeuppance were sorely needed. However, Christina wrings her hands and agonizes over what to do rather than suggest to Varek that he shut up, grow up, and smarten up. Ultimately, the most sympathetic character in the book is Robert, the wronged husband. He deserved a lot better than this.

An odd scene at a mock tournament felt jarring enough to mention here. Christina drinks too much while watching Varek joust, and overhears snippets of conversations around her as several women discuss their lovers in graphic terms. I have no idea why this was included unless it was an effort to “spice up” the book, in which case, it didn’t work anyway.

There’s enough talent displayed in Love Me Again to make me try Wendy Burge’s next book. She certainly has the creativity to craft an interesting story, and I appreciated the unusual setting of Vienna in the year 1814. Let’s hope her next hero and heroine are more lovable than these two.

--Cathy Sova

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