The Darkest Knight

His Bride

His Scandal

My Lady's Guardian

No Ordinary Groom

The Lord Next Door

The Duke in Disguise
by Gayle Callen
(Avon, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-06-078412-1
Richard OíNeill has problems. Heís currently masquerading as his arrogant, womanizing twin, Cecil, Duke of Thanet. The duke is very ill and is concerned for the life of his only son and heir, Richardís nephew Stephen. Itís imperative that no one realizes the brothers have switched places, thus the title of Gayle Callenís latest, The Duke in Disguise.

Richard finds the deception repugnant. The duke is in the habit of choosing a mistress from among his staff and rewarding her for a month or so of ďservice,Ē which leaves Richard in the position of having to do so himself or risk exposure. Worse is the fact that Richard is helplessly attracted to one member of the dukeís household, Stephenís governess, Meriel Shelby. Meriel is the daughter of a once wealthy family, now fallen on hard times. She knows the real duke, leaving Richard no choice but to play the part of his selfish, abrasive brother while in her presence, when what he really wants is to woo Meriel and let her get to know his real personality.

It soon becomes apparent that Richard will have to choose one of his brotherís servants as a mistress, or the household will be in turmoil. His solution is to make everyone believe that Meriel is the flavor of the month. He feels badly for destroying her reputation, but the ruse is necessary to protect Richardís family from an unknown enemy planning to destroy them all. It doesnít take Meriel long to figure out the truth and, agreeing that her reputation is second to Stephenís safety, she embraces Richardís plan and actively participates in sleuthing.

This book ďjumped the sharkĒ (shot itself in the foot?) (cut its own throat?) for this reader on page 14 of my copy. Here Meriel finds herself attracted to Richard, and thinking heís his rotten brother, vows to conquer her traitorous emotions. Apparently she canít trust herself because she didnít know the extent of her parentís financial problems and trusted them to take care of her. When she didnít see the truth of their poverty until too late she decided that she would never again rely on her instincts and would live by logic and intellect alone. Her attraction is a weakness that doesnít jive with her philosophy, so sheís bound to exterminate it. Why in the world she correlates her parentsí money woes with some kind of failure of her own is beyond this reader. What follows would have been a pretty good book, except for Merielís constant denial. But the page 14 foreshadowing was unfortunate, because it makes the reader immediately dread the results of Merielís vow.

Stephen was a nice change from the recent run of overly precocious child characters. Heís a sweet funny and bright little guy, and he innocently throws Richard and Meriel together on several occasions, much to Merielís chagrin. The others in the cast are pretty much your prerequisite English manor house staff, the nice but homely neighbor, and the cookie cutter villain.

The rest of the book unfortunately doesnít bear much mention. While the plot is OK, aside from Merielís stubbornness the whole is pretty much forgettable. I was able to put it down several times for days at a time, and wouldnít recommend it to a friend. The Duke in Disguise is part of a series of stories about Merielís sisters, but this book did little to stimulate interest in the others.

--Wendy Livingston

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