The Spy's Bride by Lynn Collum
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6105-6
The Spy's Bride introduces us to Christopher "Kit" Harden, Viscount Ridgecrest, master spy known as "Le Fantome Anglais." The product of a Portuguese mother and an English father, Kit is well-suited to the life of a spy. His looks and his flawless accent have helped him pass as Portuguese for years. Following one final mission, he'll be able to go home for a well-earned rest.

Lady Victoria Woodley is in dire straits. Her odious uncle and guardian is scheming to marry her off to her cousin Giles, hoping to get his hands on the money Victoria will inherit when she marries. Victoria decides to run away and find her best friend, her cousin Charles, who is serving with Wellington's army. She chops off her hair, dresses in bulky men's clothing, and presents herself at the docks in London as a young man hoping to find passage to the Peninsula in order to find her father.

Victoria and Kit cross paths at the docks, where Kit takes "Victor Woods" under his wing as a valet, believing the young man's tale of journeying to find his father, Captain Charles Rydal. The journey passes uneventfully and Victoria manages to keep her disguise intact. Upon reaching Portugal, Kit immediately sends for Captain Rydal to claim his "son," and gets the shock of his life when Victoria's disguise is uncovered. Victoria has spent several weeks in the close proximity of a man not her husband, and in Kit's mind, there's only one thing to do. Reluctantly, Victoria agrees that they must wed.

Kit believes Victoria to be penniless, and sends her back to Harwick Hall to await his return. Here Victoria meets Kit's cheerfully headstrong sister, Isabel, and his imperious mother. Harwick Hall is in disrepair, and Victoria suggests that the three ladies take up residence in London while it is being refurbished, a plan to which they enthusiastically agree. When Kit rejoins them in London, an instant Big Misunderstanding ensues over who is paying for what. No sooner is it cleared up than Kit receives orders that he must shadow and seduce information from a mysterious Lady Frey, a move sure to put a crimp in his seduction plans for Victoria.

The Spy's Bride is well-written and fairly fast-paced. Both Kit and Victoria behave like adults and the secondary characters of the sister and mother are interesting. Isabel is a departure from the usual Regency miss in that she's quite tall and also a bit plump, but it's a good fit for her irrepressible personality.

Unfortunately, the secondary characters were more interesting that Kit and Victoria, who wade through one misunderstanding after another. I had a hard time accepting that Kit, though smitten with his new wife, would wait and wait to consummate their marriage. Of course, if he had, the major misunderstanding over Lady Frey would probably not have held up, and this reduced Kit's actions to a plot contrivance. It was especially hard to believe since Victoria was presented as willing and interested.

Despite this hole in the plot, the rest of the story was enjoyable. The Spy's Bride deviates from the Regency norm in several ways, and that's a breath of fresh air to this struggling genre.

--Cathy Sova

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