Maternity Leave

Swept Away

A Stolen Heart by Candace Camp
(Mira, $5.99, R) ISBN: 1-55166-552-2
Whenever I find myself reading a book in more or less one sitting, I know I’m going to recommend it. And since I spent most of yesterday reading Candace Camp’s new Regency historical, despite the fact that it was an unbelievable 75 degrees here and gloriously sunny, despite the papers that await grading, well, I can only conclude that A Stolen Heart kept my attention.

The prologue sets the stage. The year is 1789; the place is revolutionary Paris; the mob is out. Simone, Lady Chilton is unable to convince her English husband and her French parents to flee the city. She fears for herself, but mostly for her children. (Actually, Camp is a bit premature with her description of mob attacks on aristocrats; these actually came later.) So she sneaks seven-year-old John, four-year-old Marie Anne, and two-year-old Alexandra out of the house to find refuge in a friend’s house.

Twenty-two years later, Alexandra Ward arrives in London from her home in Boston with her mother Rhea and her Aunt Hortense. Alexandra has come to England on business; she runs her family’s very successful shipping firm. But she has another purpose. She admires Indian culture and has learned that Sebastian, Lord Thorpe has the best collection of Indian artifacts in London. Since her company has just signed a lucrative contract with Lord Thorpe’s tea exporting company, she inveighs his agent to take her to Thorpe’s house, convinced she can wheedle the crotchety old man into showing her his treasures.

Of course, Lord Thorpe is not old, although he is a bit crotchety. He is viewed by society as an illusive and dangerous fellow, accepted for his title and great wealth, but not a comfortable sort of person. Sebastian is understandably startled when this plain-spoken American miss invades his privacy and shows little regard for his reputation or his position. He is also intrigued by this black-haired beauty.

Alexandra finds herself strangely attracted to this handsome, arrogant man. He rouses feelings in her unlike any she has known before. Then, something surprising occurs. When Sebastian introduces Alexandra to his friend, the Dowager Countess of Exmoor, the lady gasps, “Simone,” and faints dead away.

A visit to the countess’s home the next day throws light on her strange behavior. Alexandra looks just like the countess’s daughter-in-law who died at the hands of a French mob along with her husband, her parents and, supposedly, her three children. Alexandra rejects the idea that she could be a lost granddaughter, despite her name and the fact that she was born in Paris. But then suspicious events start threatening Alexandra and her household.

If I have any trouble with the story, it concerns Sebastian’s behavior. When the countess’s daughter suggests to him that Alexandra is intent on defrauding her mother by pretending to be the lost child, he all too quickly begins to doubt her. I guess this is necessary to sustain the tension, but I wish Camp had chosen another path. This seems a little too well trodden.

Of course, the reader has the advantage of knowing the truth about Alexandra’s parentage. There is the mystery of who is threatening Alexandra and her family and of what happened twenty-two years ago. The mystery surrounding the villain’s identity is nicely done.

Despite my minor problem with the hero’s motivations, I thoroughly enjoyed A Stolen Heart. Whatever his suspicions, Sebastian finds himself more and more attracted to Alexandra. And he has lots of opportunities to rescue her from peril. Indeed, Camp has some very inventive ways of bringing the two of them together. And when they get together!

Thus, I heartily recommend A Stolen Heart to readers who like a fast-paced, exciting tale of romance and reunion. And there were two other children. Does that mean two more stories? The blurb in the back promises to tell us what happened to Marie Anne. I can hardly wait till August.

--Jean Mason

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