The Darkest Knight

His Bride

His Scandal

My Lady's Guardian

No Ordinary Groom

 
The Lord Next Door
by Gayle Callen
(Avon, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-06-078411-3
***
Although they never met as children, Victoria Shelby and David Thurlow corresponded through a journal they left in a secret location. Victoria shared many of her apprehensions about being a less-than-perfect daughter. David, however, took on another identity: instead of admitting to being the young viscount, he pretended to be the cook's son. I have a hard time believing next-door-neighbors wouldn't suspect the truth about each other, let alone get passing glimpses of one another. Then again, I may be less informed about Victorian architecture and society than Gayle Callen .

Victoria and David's exchange ceased more than ten years ago, but she has never forgotten about it or the playful proposal "Tom" made. Now, after her father's death has left her family destitute, she decides to take him up on it. After years of avoiding him, she marches up to his front door. What a surprise to discover who her childhood friend is and that he still wants to marry her!

David has lived under the shadow of his father's scandalous behavior. Ever since his marriage offers to women of his class were rejected, he has avoided all social dealings with the ton. Yet, fully aware that a man of his class isn't supposed to be involved in money matters, he keeps his investments in a railroad company a secret. He believes a wife will provide him with the social cover necessary for meetings with industrialists and financiers. She can also manage his disorderly household and provide him with much-needed heirs. He has always liked his mysterious neighbor, and is convinced marriage is the perfect solution for them. Far be it for me to wonder why such a scandal-conscious person isn't more wary about a downwardly mobile match.

Most of the novel relates how Victoria and David adjust to each other while also growing into better people. Instead of immediately exercising his marital rights, David prolongs his courtship through an extended seduction. He begins with handholding and then proceeds to a light kiss, continuing in this manner until the marriage is fully consummated. Meanwhile, Victoria learns how to fit in his world of railroad magnates, progressive politicians and snooty aristocrats.

While I prefer spunkier and wittier heroines, understated Victoria is not without backbone. She knows her place in marriage, but doesn't appreciate the way David excludes her from major decisions. I particularly liked watching her berate him for his treatment of a former mistress.

The climax sets out to re-inject tension where it is beginning to lack. Unfortunately, these final scenes seem forced. A new villain is introduced in the last fifty pages, generating an unnecessary and contrived twist. Victoria's qualms about revealing the scandal in her own family are exaggerated, given the known social differences between David and her. David's final heart-to-heart with his father doesn't uncover any unsuspected secrets. While generally efficient at delineating character growth and development, The Lord Next Door is not exceptional. I enjoyed it while it lasted, but am ready to move on to something better.

--Mary Benn


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