A Bargain with Fate by Ann Elizabeth Cree
(Harlequin, $4.50, PG) ISBN: 0-373-51167-1
****
While Ann Elizabeth Cree’s Regency romance breaks no new ground with its plot and characters, it is nonetheless a most entertaining tale of how true love brings together a most unlikely couple - a rake and a proper widow.

Rosalyn, Lady Jeffries has come to the home of Michael, Marquis of Stamford, to try to save her family home. Lord Stamford had won Meryton Hall from her young brother James. Rosalyn hopes to convince the marquis to allow her to redeem the debt over time, using her own resources. Needless to say, the meeting does not go well. Lord Stamford treats is unexpected guest with less than the respect that she is accustomed to and Lady Jeffries expresses her disdain for the marquis’ well deserved reputation. If Stamford is intrigued by the lovely widow, Rosalyn hopes never to encounter him again.

Perhaps nothing would have come of this meeting were it not for the fact that Michael’s father, the overbearing Duke of Eversleigh, has decided that it is time for his son and heir to marry and has picked out his bride, Miss Helena Randall, the granddaughter of a friend. Michael has no desire to marry a schoolroom miss; indeed, he has no desire to wed at all. So he devises a plan. If he is already betrothed, he cannot be forced to marry Miss Randall. All he needs is a temporary fiancée and he knows just the person.

Michael visits Lady Jeffries and makes her an offer. If she will pretend to be betrothed to him, he will restore Meryton Hall to her brother. While Rosalyn’s first response is to refuse, she ultimately decides that she has no choice. She feels responsible for her brother and for the estate.

Of course, the denouement is completely predictable, but it is lots of fun watching these two seemingly mismatched folks find true love. Michael is used to having women pursue him; he finds Rosalyn’s resistance to his allure both a challenge and an attraction. He also finds her difference from most of the women of his acquaintance a welcome change. She is intelligent as well as virtuous and before he quite understands what is happening, he realizes that he is falling in love. But what to do about Rosalyn’s low opinion of his character?

Rosalyn has been coerced into this sham engagement and she has no time for Michael’s rakish behavior. But as the two are increasingly thrown together, she comes to appreciate his charm and to discover that he in fact does have a number of good qualities. Moreover, his kisses make her melt. He is so very different from her scholarly husband. Still, he cannot possibly love her, can he?

Michael and Rosalyn discover that their pretend betrothal causes all sorts of complications other than their changing feelings about each other. There is the surprising delight of both his and her family, except for her brother. There are the machinations of his former mistress and the evil Mr. Fairchilde, who has his own designs on Rosalyn. There is the intense interest of the ton in the woman who has finally captured the elusive marquis. All of the above add interest and enjoyment to the story.

A Bargain with Fate is a most enjoyable Regency romance. I liked the hero and heroine, the secondary characters, the setting and the plot. I recommend it without reservations.

--Jean Mason


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