True Colours by Nicola Cornick
(Harlequin, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-51134-5
Sometimes when a plot goes awry, it pays to analyze exactly what happened. In the case of True Colours, this Regency romance started out quite nicely, moved along at a good pace with everyone behaving just as they should, and then took a wrong turn. That I understand why the author made the choices she did - the need to sustain the external conflict - does not really make up for the fact that for a good part of the book both the hero and the heroine act very stupidly. Let me explain.

Seven years ago, lovely Alicia Broseley met and fell in love with the dashing Marquess of Mullineaux. However, their plans to wed were thwarted by Alicia’s nasty father who forced her to marry one of his business associates, the very rich and very unappealing Lord Carberry. James, believing that the woman he loved had jilted him for a fortune, left the country after denouncing his erstwhile fiancée to society.

Alicia was fortunate in her marriage; her husband died on her wedding night and she was able to flee to her grandmother, the dowager Countess of Stansfield. Lady Stansfield healed her physical and emotional wounds and gradually smoothed her way back into society. The very rich widowed Lady Carberry is much sought after, but has chosen not to marry again, despite numerous offers.

Fate brings James and Alicia together in the guise of a carriage accident. The two are stranded for the night at an inn and James does the right thing: he offers to marry Alicia. Alicia refuses; his attitude proves that he holds her in contempt. But fate is not done with the two. They are neighbors of a sort and moreover, Alicia’s best friend is married to James’ best friend. Lord Kilgaren suggests that there is more to Alicia’s marriage to Carberry than James knows. The marquess decides to discover the truth.

Clearly, the two have a lot of baggage. James is convinced that Alicia preferred money to him; Alicia thinks that James readily abandoned her and then spread nasty rumors about her behavior. They each discover that their beliefs about what happened seven years earlier are wrong. But even before the truth comes out, it is clear that the two are still attracted to each other. Indeed, Alicia admits that she has always loved James.

It is at this point that the story goes wrong. The two go up to London for the season and both behave foolishly. Alicia, with all sorts of evidence to the contrary, concludes that James is uninterested in her. James, for no good reason that I can see, rather than pushing his suit, behaves with propriety. I mean, he wants to marry Alicia but rather than courting her, he keeps his distance which, of course, increases her doubts.

I understand why the author embarked on this course; she needed to keep the two apart so that the machinations of Alicia’s evil father could play out and there could be the requisite rescue at the end. But emotionally, it just didn’t work. Once James had discovered the truth and once the spark between the two had been reignited, their separation made no sense. One hesitates to tell an author how to tell her story, but Cornick would have done better to postpone the truth-telling till later in the story. Then, perhaps, this reader would not have become annoyed with the hero and heroine.

So, despite liking the hero and heroine (when they were acting like sensible human beings), I find that I cannot recommend True Colours. This is a shame, because I have always enjoyed reunion stories and this one came so close to being a good one.

--Jean Mason

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