The Bride Thief

In Over His Head

Love and the Single Heiress

Red Roses Mean Love

A Sure Thing?

Whirlwind Affair

Whirlwind Wedding

Not Quite a Gentleman
by Jacqui D’Alessandro
(Avon, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-077938-1
Okay, I admit it. I’m fed up with the plot device of introducing every chapter of a historical romance with a “quote” from a book, whether it be a Gothic novel, a treatise on the rights of women, or a guide to seduction. Enough already. It was amusing the first three or four times, but by the fifteenth, my bet is that readers aren’t bothering to read these introductions anyway. (Yep, guilty as charged, and the fact that the author did this in her last novel, with the same “book” quoted, made it even easier to blow by them.)

Not Quite a Gentleman, now-lame literary device aside, is quite a fun novel. Jacqui D’Alessandro never fails to write sharp dialogue and interesting characters to deliver it, and this is no exception. An entertaining romance and a light mystery make it a treat for readers. Lady Victoria Wexhall is certainly annoyed to be sent to a country estate in Cornwall just as the London Season is starting, but her father insists. Ostensibly, she’s to ponder her continued refusal of eligible men, but it’s soon apparent that Lord Wexhall has another motive.

Victoria is incensed to find that the younger son of Creston Manor is none other than Dr. Nathan Oliver, the very man who delivered her first – and blisteringly hot – kiss three years ago and then abruptly disappeared. Victoria hasn’t really been able to get him out of her mind since that night. Now she can exact a little revenge on the rake who toyed with her and left her. Perfect.

Nathan spent some time in the service of the Crown, and while he was carrying a valuable set of jewels, he was attacked and the jewels stolen. His older brother, Colin, and his best friend were shot in the incident, and though both survived, their censure caused him to leave the family home for three years. Now he is back, with a small menagerie of animals given to him as payment for his services. Lord Wexhall has sent a letter to Nathan with information that may clear his name, and it was hidden in Victoria’s luggage. Unfortunately, she found it first, and now Victoria is refusing to give him the note unless she is allowed to help search for the missing jewels.

Nathan and Victoria are thrown together as he reluctantly agrees, and then they spend enough time together to find that their initial passion is still hot. And it’s while they learn about each other and come to appreciate each other’s merits that Victoria casts off her slightly spiteful mantle and learns to deal with Nathan as a person. Nathan isn’t without a little ammunition of his own, as he’s discovered a scandalous guide to seduction in Victoria’s things and isn’t above blackmailing her with it, a move the reader can only applaud.

Nathan and Victoria are very vivid characters, and both turn out to be quite likable. The story gets off to a slow start, as the author spends some time setting the stage and filling in the backstory, but once it gets moving, the pace picks up. Nathan and Victoria spar and squabble, but underneath is a sizzling awareness of one another and a secret delight in finding someone with the same sense of adventure and sharp intelligence. Their romance is wonderfully natural. These are two lovers who, by the time they consummate their relationship, are already bonded, though they may not realize it just yet.

The mystery is really background to help move the story along, and doesn’t figure heavily. The focus is on the developing love between Nathan and Victoria, and I have suspicions that Colin will be getting his own novel. It’s much to Jacqui D’Alessandro’s credit that she can take what might have been another Regency-set spy tale and infuse it with enough originality to make it thoroughly entertaining. And the animals are a hoot.

Not Quite a Gentleman gets my recommendation as a sparkling Regency treat. Readers are sure to enjoy this one.

--Cathy Sova

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