The Prince's Bride by Tracy Cozzens
(Zebra Bouquet #16, $3.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-6351-2
****
Newcomer Tracy Cozzens delivers an entertaining romance with fairy-tale overtones in The Prince's Bride. Nicole Aldridge, society editor for Aristocrats magazine, wanted nothing more than freedom and opportunity when she fled the principality of Caldonia to settle in New York City. Tiny Caldonia, resisting modernization, had claimed the lives of her parents on a poorly-marked road. Now Nicole is a success and life is interesting, to say the least.

Then she receives an unexpected visit from her uncle, a Caldonian baron. Prince Rand needs someone to help him find an ideal wife. Uncle Phillip happened to mention Nicole's name, and now the prince wants her to interview for the position. Calling on Nicole's long-suppressed loyalty to her homeland, Uncle Phillip convinces her that this could be a great opportunity.

Nicole isn't convinced. The "Playboy Prince" has a reputation as a lightweight ladies' man, not given to anything more serious than charity balls and gossip. Her first meeting with the prince does little to dispel that image. Rand presents Nicole with a list of qualifications for his future bride, and seems more interested in his upcoming polo match than discussing this lifelong commitment. As it turns out, it's all a fašade.

Rand has more going on than meets the eye. He's living under the threat of penury from his overbearing father if he doesn't wed within a year, and that would destroy all his carefully laid, behind-the-scenes plans to modernize his country. The steady parade of vapid beauties vying for his hand and throne don't interest him. What he really wants is a woman with some smarts, and the more he gets to know Nicole, the more interested he is. But she's a commoner, and he needs a wife of the nobility. Or does he?

Tracy Cozzens does an admirable job of fleshing out these characters. Alternating viewpoints are used effectively to bring Rand to life as well as Nicole. His insecurity as he realizes he's falling in love with her, and his desperate attempts to get her to admit she feels the same are heartwrenching in places. Nicole's despair as she fights her growing feelings for Rand is equally touching. And the sexual tension between them is scorching.

As for the setting and plot premise, okay, it's a fairy-tale. Call this pure escapist romance. The key here is that it's well-written and will keep readers turning pages.

Kudos to Tracy Cozzens for a fine debut effort. The Prince's Bride is a delightful tale that will leave you smiling.

--Cathy Sova


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