The Blanchland Secret

Lady Polly

The Larkswood Legacy

Miss Verey's Proposal

True Colours

The Virtuous Cyprian

The Earlís Prize by Nicola Cornick
(Harl. Historical #684, $5.25, PG) ISBN 0-373-29284-8
The main characters in this Regency-era historical are straight out of Barbara Cartlandís Scrapbook of Stock Characters. Youíve met them before, probably several times. What raises The Earlís Prize from its stereotypical origins is the romance between the hero and heroine. They may be stereotypes, but their sharp dialogue and lively interaction provide a couple youíll root for as well as an entertaining story.

Joss Tallant, Earl of Tallant is the familiar unrepentant rake. Deserted by his mother as a child, devilishly handsome and an inveterate gambler, he is estranged from his father who believes him to have lost a fortune at the gambling tables. Of course, thereís more to the story, and at heart heís everything noble and good.

Amy Bainbridge has long endured the disadvantages of having a compulsive gambler as a father. Her childhood was frequently disrupted as the family fortunes waxed and waned at the turn of a card. Her London season was cut short when her father committed suicide. Amy now lives in barely shabby genteel poverty with her mother, a miser, who ignores her daughterís needs so that her son can live the life of a gentleman. Amy is a brave soul, soldiering on, uncomplaining, pinching pennies, and sacrificing herself for her brother because thatís what this kind of heroine does. She blames her brotherís gambling companions, including the Earl of Tallant, for her brotherís faults rather than acknowledging what a worthless hole in space he is. No surprise, Amy is adamantly opposed to gambling.

Sir Richard Bainbridge is Amyís brother, a selfish, self-indulgent libertine who shows every sign of following in his fatherís undistinguished footsteps at the gaming tables. He has an income of three thousand pounds a year, all of which is devoted to his own enjoyment with no thought spared for his mother or sister.

Richard hosts a gaming party at his house where, of course, he loses. The next morning Amy finds a lottery ticket on the floor and believes it must be Richardís. She goes to the lottery drawing intending to meet Richard and give him the lottery ticket. She does not find him, but the winning numbers match the lottery ticket in her hand. Briefly, she understands some of the lure of gambling.

Of course, Amy, being the honest-to-a-fault heroine she is, knows she cannot keep the 30,000 pounds because the lottery ticket isnít hers. She learns it isnít Richardís either; therefore, it must belong to one of the other men at Richardís party. But who and how to find out?

A cruel joke played on Amy by Lady Juliana, the Earlís sister, results in Jossís being regularly in Amyís company. Both of them are in for a surprise when their preconceived ideas about each other are shown to be utterly false.

Where this story shines is the dialogue between Amy and Joss. For most of the book, Amy is one of those heroines you want to kick because sheís so impossibly good and self-sacrificing. Itís when she is in Jossís company that she comes alive. Moreover, the scenes where Amy discovers the attraction of gambling have a welcome feel of validity.

The plot has enough satisfying depth and twists to be both original and entertaining. Some of the plot devices have been used before, but they come across as fresh and lively in this version.

A word about the PG rating: until the last few pages, this story is thoroughly G-rated. Itís unfortunate that the gratuitous bed scene was not omitted. A good G-rated story is hard to find, and that one scene adds nothing to the story line. Does anyone have any doubts that Joss and Amy would have a good time in bed?

The Earlís Prize is an excellent choice for readers who enjoy traditional Regency romances as well as those who read historical romances. This entertaining story is sure to please.

--Lesley Dunlap

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