An Unlikely Father by Lynn Collum
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6418-7
**
An Unlikely Father is a bass-ackward Regency if there ever was one. If only the hero and heroine had been relegated to supporting cast status, and the secondary romance elevated to starring role, then this would have been a fun book, indeed. As it is, readers are stuck with two immature, posturing leads prone to fits of "I'll show him" and "I'll show her", which is tiresome in the extreme.

The story starts out in a promising vein. Miss Emily Collins is about to return to England after spending fifteen years in India with her aunt and uncle. Aunt Olivia and Uncle Nathan are now dead, and Emily is an heiress. She will take along her devoted companion, the pretty widow Delia Keaton, and they will find a nice property somewhere in England where they can live happily.

As Emily is pondering this delightful prospect, a solicitor arrives with a special request. Since Miss Emily is returning to England anyway, will she kindly chaperone three motherless children to their uncle's home in Bath? Emily agrees, and with children and pets and turbaned Indian manservant in tow, they all set out for England and the estate of Oliver, Lord Hawksworth.

Oliver is a bit of a dissolute wreck. A pledge made to his dying grandfather some years back -- to wed by his thirty-sixth birthday -- is looming and his dowager grandmother has a lady all picked out. Oliver has retired to his country estate with a few friends, where they await the arrival of a group of actresses for their entertainment. When Emily shows up, children in tow, Oliver at first refuses to believe her story. Emily announces her intention to stay, at least long enough to settle the children into their new home. One of Oliver's guests, Sir Ethan, a quiet Scotsman, takes a shine to Delia. As for Oliver and Emily, they immediately strike sparks.

Emily decides that she won't be dictated to by this overbearing man (never mind that it's his house). Oliver decides that Emily, under her annoying bossiness, is just another silly chit out for an adventure. Their first outside encounter comes when Emily borrows a curricle and pair from the stables against Oliver's orders and takes a tour of the surrounding properties. Oliver, out for a drive himself, spots her team and curricle and

"with a snap of the reins, Hawksworth put his team into a bone-jarring gallop, starting down the hill toward the servant and the waiting carriage. Too concerned about his team, he gave little thought to where Miss Collins was."

Read that again and you'll see just how silly it is. Oliver gallops his own prize team of horses downhill, at a full gallop, something that no driver would do except in dire circumstances (one stumble and you've got two dead horses and a wrecked carriage) because he's worried about the team at the bottom of the hill? Huh? Emily, of course, is full of head-tossing nonsense when Oliver confronts her, no matter that she never asked permission to take the horses. I itched to slap both of them.

There is, of course, the wealthy and beautiful Lady Cora in the wings, scheming to marry Oliver. Emily and Oliver gradually come to realize that they care for one another, but by then I didn't care for either of them. I was much more interested in the romance going on between Sir Ethan and Delia. At least they weren't prone to fits of pique.

Other readers may not find Emily and Oliver nearly as annoying as I did, and if that's the case with you, I sincerely hope you find An Unlikely Father to be a pleasurable read. For this reader, though, the secondary romance was the only thing preventing a one-heart rating.

--Cathy Sova


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