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Isabella's Rake

My Lady Ghost by June Calvin
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-19541-8
You've undoubtedly heard me talk about my put-down, pick-up test for rating a book. If I can't put it down, a five; if I can, but have to pick it up as soon as possible, a 4, and if I can put it down for a while but don't mind picking it up, a 3. By my own peculiar system, June Calvin's latest Regency earns a 3 rating. It took me a couple of days to read but when I found time to pick it up, there was no feeling of dismay.

As you can tell from the title, My Lady Ghost is a Regency with paranormal elements. As I am usually a reader who likes her stories straight, I might have predicted that what would keep me from getting involved in this book was the prominent role taken by the ghost. But such was not the case. Indeed, the scenes of ghostly apparition were among the most compelling in the novel. Rather, I did not find the relationship between the hero and heroine as interesting as I would have hoped.

Allison Weatherby is a widow whose financial situation is less than happy. Her husband failed to provide for her and her father, before he died, gambled away his fortune. His heir has basically cut her and her mother adrift and her childhood friend and distant relation Thorne, Marquess of Silverthorne has taken them under his wing.

Allison and her mother have been living with Thorne for some time, believing that he is attempting to settle their affairs. Thrown together, the two discover that they enjoy each other's company. Thorne especially appreciates Allison's wit and intelligence, while Allison finds herself falling in love with the dashing marquess. She has reason to believe that her feelings are reciprocated and hopes that Thorne will soon propose.

Thorne is in fact in love with Allison, but sees two barriers to their marriage. The first is the fact that he needs an heir and Allison never conceived during six years of marriage. At present, his heir is his cousin James whose father feared that his son's rackety ways would dissipate the family fortune. Thorne believes it would be irresponsible to leave his estate and responsibilities in James' hands. Given the importance of a male heir to a 19th century nobleman, this reservation on Thorne's part seems quite legitimate.

I have more trouble with the second caveat that prevents Thorne from asking Allison to marry him. It turns out that Thorne has vowed on his father's grave never to marry for love, for in his opinion, a man who loves his wife too much becomes her slave. Instead, carried away by his feelings, he suggests that Allison become his mistress.

Appalled by Thorne's suggestion, Allison flees his home and attempts to support herself and her mother by teaching school in Bristol. But the difficulties in earning a living and her mother's failing health force Allison once more into Thorne's orbit. She agrees to move into the dower house on his estate.

The return to Silverthorne renews her interest in the legend of the Silverthorne treasure which is believed to be buried somewhere in the ruins of the castle on Thorne's estate and is guarded by the ghost known as the Silver Lady. Since Allison as a child saw the lady beckoning her to follow her into the castle, she wonders whether the lady might be trying to lead her to the treasure.

I have usually enjoyed June Calvin's Regencies very much. However, I did not find My Lady Ghost as compelling as her previous books. My primary problems were with Thorne's motivations. I can accept his hesitation based on Allison's suspected barrenness (but I did have problems with Allison's unwillingness to set him straight on this matter.) I guess the "I won't marry for love because if I love my wife she'll dominate me" internal conflict just didn't work for me. I mean, he really loves this woman, she's his soul mate, and he's going to refuse to marry her because his stepmother was a domineering b***h? I wasn't persuaded.

So I cannot recommend My Lady Ghost. It's a shame, because the ghost story was lots of fun.

--Jean Mason

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