The Bride Thief

In Over His Head

Red Roses Mean Love

A Sure Thing?

Whirlwind Affair

Whirlwind Wedding

Love & the Single Heiress
by Jacquie D’Alessandro
(Avon, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-053671-3
Jacquie D’Alessandro is one of the brightest lights in the galaxy of historical romance authors, and her trademark dialog – sparkling, funny, and tender – is back in abundance with Love and the Single Heiress.

Lady Catherine Ashfield, Viscountess Bickley, is the secret co-author of a book that has set Regency London on its ear. A Ladies’ Guide to the Pursuit of Personal Happiness and Intimate Fulfillment has the husbands of the ton in a panic, as their heretofore biddable wives are suddenly questioning their gaming habits, insisting on knowing their whereabouts, and demanding better treatment in the bedroom. Clearly “Mr. Charles Brightmore” must be stopped, and in steps Andrew Stanton, ex-patriate American, to ferret out the author.

Andrew is a good friend of Catherine’s brother, and has loved Catherine for years. He’s determined to court her, now that she has come out of mourning for her late husband. Catherine, however, has other ideas. Her marriage was unhappy, and her pride and joy is her adolescent son, Spencer – a bright lad born with a clubfoot. The boys of London taunted and tormented Spencer, so Catherine and Spencer reside at their country home, Little Longstone. Only her father’s birthday has brought her to London, where she and Andrew renew their acquaintance – and where Catherine overhears a veiled threat to “Mr. Charles Brightmore”.

A stranger fires a gun in the vicinity of the party, and Catherine is winged in the shoulder. She insists on returning to her country home, fearing that someone may have discovered her alias. In a plot setup that didn’t quite ring true, Andrew tosses aside his investigation and accompanies her, assured that Spencer will be an adequate chaperone. (An eleven-year-old boy chaperoning his mother?) Once at Little Longstone, Andrew quickly bonds with young Spencer and begins to teach him to ride and box.

Yet there are “accidents” cropping up, and it looks as thought someone is out to injure or kill Catherine. Andrew, of course, can’t leave her in danger. Catherine and Andrew grow closer, despite their verbal sparring, in a lovely bit of leisurely storytelling that may strike some readers as slow, but hit me just right. Andrew knows what he wants. He doesn’t mind taking his time to get it.

Though the romance was tender and rather languid, it heats up nicely. Andrew is a fun hero; it’s refreshing to read of a man who is besotted by a woman and determined to make her see how perfect they would be together. Catherine holds onto her distaste for marriage a bit too long; granted, her first husband was a swine, but she has ample opportunity to admit that Andrew is no such thing. Overall, they are a delightful couple, and I enjoyed the fact that they’re both in their thirties, which isn’t often seen in a Regency-set historical.

The suspense part of the plot fades in and out through the middle, rearing its head when it’s necessary for Andrew to save Catherine. Then the author throws a twist in at the end that livens things up. Readers definitely won’t see it coming.

The secondary characters fit the bill, especially Spencer, who is portrayed as a nice kid with a small disability but a genuinely sunny nature. He’s old enough to actually interact with the adults, too, and D’Alessandro keeps him boyish without being precocious. Instead, he’s a wee bit protective of his Mum. What a sweetie.

One unintentionally hilarious feature is the stepback cover art, which features the standard “couple reclining in bed”. This wouldn’t have elicited a second glance except the woman looks like she has a balloon stuck to her chest and a thirty-pound mane of hair. Why is Avon burdening this nice author with these cheesy covers? Silly cover art aside, though, Love and the Single Heiress is a witty, entertaining read and well worth your time. For all you D’Alessandro fans, Jacquie’s back, and in fine form!

--Cathy Sova

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