Lady Polly

The Larkswood Legacy

True Colours

The Virtuous Cyprian

Miss Verey’s Proposal
by Nicola Cornick
(Harl. Historical #604, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-373-29204-X
Nobody has managed to disable the exclamation mark key on Nicola Cornick’s keyboard yet, which is a shame because not all readers are going to bother sifting through the hysteria-tinged dialogue to savor the good story underneath. However, if you can force your eyes to ignore the cheesy punctuation, this Regency is quite delightful.

Miss Jane Verey reluctantly awaits the arrival of Lord Philip Delahaye, younger brother of a duke. She expects him to propose, due to an arrangement made between her older brother and the duke himself. Lord Philip arrives four hours late for dinner, after the household has gone to bed. He makes rude demands, insults Jane’s mother, and tries to seduce a chambermaid right under Jane’s nose. Marry this boorish oaf? Not on your life

At six the next morning, Jane knocks on Philip’s door, dressed in a padded costume that makes her look at least fifty pounds heavier. Painted-on freckles and a dowdy hairstyle complete the disguise. Philip takes one look and can’t leave fast enough. Jane breathes a sigh of relief. Now she can go to London with her mother and her dear friend Sophie and enjoy a bit of the Season without the specter of an unwanted engagement looming over her.

The tables are turned on Jane when Alex, the Duke of Delahaye, demands to know why his younger brother won’t honor the betrothal he arranged so carefully. Jane Verey is a sensible, calm young lady - just what Philip needs to curb his wilds ways. Alex tries to force Philip’s hand: marry the girl or be cut off, money-wise. Philip flatly refuses to marry “a great whale of a girl”. And when the brothers find out that Miss Jane Verey is in town, something doesn’t add up. She’s reputed to be quite a beauty. Then Alex meets Jane at Almack’s, his suspicions begin to build, and when she matches him wit for wit, his interest is more than piqued. Still, his brother needs a steadying influence. Miss Verey will marry Philip.

In a pig’s eye, Jane declares, and the battle of wits is on. Jane is more than up to the task, too, especially when she sees that Philip has taken a sincere and rather charming interest in her friend Sophie. It looks like the rake may well be on his way to being reformed, without Jane’s help. But how to convince the arrogant, and devilishly attractive, Duke of Delahaye?

The pacing is quick, the leads are intelligent and almost magnetically attracted to each other, and the plot has a few delightful twists. The secondary romance between Philip and Sophie plays out nicely, and when Jane decides to enlist Philip’s help to thwart Alex once and for all, she’s in for a surprise. Alex and Jane understand one another almost immediately, and it’s hard to fool someone who thinks on the same plane you do.

Alex, with a bad marriage behind him, could easily have been presented as one of those tiresome “All women are faithless” twits, but the author gives us a glimpse into his past, enough for us to understand that even in the Regency, eighteen was rather young to marry. This makes his hesitation plausible. And the heat generated between Jane and Alex is quite sensual, for a Regency, though not explicit.

There is even a third romance in the story, between Jane’s brother and a mysterious lady he meets at a ball. It’s just as charming as the other two, and plays an important and completely plausible role in the plot.

Alas, those ridiculous exclamation points. They run in streaks; for pages, the author forgets all about them, then it’s as if she suddenly remembers that she meant to pack at least twenty on each page. It’s a shame to see a good story suffocating under hack writing techniques like this. Far from making the dialogue seem dramatic, it simply looks ridiculous. A Bronx cheer to any editor who thinks this is good writing technique. It’s not.

So, my advice is to train your eyes to ignore the punctuation and concentrate on the story, instead. Miss Verey’s Proposal is quite delightful in content, and you’ll be glad you picked this one up.

--Cathy Sova

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