The Fair Game

Falling For Chloe

The Fortune Hunter

The Nobody

Once Upon a Christmas

Duel of Hearts by Diane Farr
(Signet, $6.50, PG) ISBN 0-451-20720-3
Diane Farrís sure touch with Regency romance continues in Duel of Hearts, a delightful tale of a spoiled, headstrong young woman who meets her match in a nobleman whoís just as imperious as she is. Their mutual comedown makes for a wonderful romance in this single-title release.

Delilah Chadwick is stunned to receive a letter from her dear papa, informing her that he will be returning to their country home with a new bride. Lilah is incensed. How dare some harpy steal her beloved father away? After all, Papa has never kept secrets from her. She has always been able to manage him. Without further ado, Lilah decides to travel to London to put a stop to this match. She packs her companion, Miss Pickens, into their barouche, intending to hire a suitable traveling coach at the nearest in.

Except when they arrive at the inn, the only coach left is dilapidated and reeks of onions. Worse, it is already spoken for, by one Adam Harleston, Earl of Drakeney. Marching up to the huge, disheveled earl in the taproom, Lilah demands he give her the coach. He rudely informs her that she can take her demands elsewhere - he needs the coach and wonít give it up. She fumes and orders him to give it up, he ignores her protests, and for the first time in her life, Delilah Chadwick has met her match.

The two grudgingly settle on an arrangement: Lilah and Pickens will share the coach with Drake. Their uncomfortable journey descends into near-farce when Drake and Lilah discover they are off to London on the same errand, for he is none other than the cousin of Miss Eugenia Mayhew, intended of Sir Horace Chadwick. And, Drake testily informs Lilah, he has no intention of allowing his dear cousin to marry some lecherous old man twice her age, not when he, Drake, intends to marry her himself. Placid, kindhearted Eugenia is just the sort of biddable woman he wants.

Or so he thinks. When Drake and Lilah arrive in London to find that Sir Horace and Eugenia are attending a house party at the nearby home of Drakeís aunt, they decide to crash the party and make their respective relations see the error of their ways. In the meantime. Lilah, the spoiled brat, and Drake, the arrogant nobleman used to ordering things his way, discover the exhilaration of clashing wills with someone they canít intimidate - someone who sees through the bluster to the person beneath.

Much of the dialogue between Lilah and Drake is banter, but it comes across as high-spirited rather than mean-spirited. True, Drake does have some tart remarks about Lilahís insistence on having things her way, but as Lilah begins to open her eyes and admit that she has had little opposition in her life, she becomes much more endearing to the reader, as well as to Drake. In fact, itís Drake who falls first. The novel never progresses beyond kisses, but they are hotter than youíll find in most traditional Regencies. And once they share their first kiss, Drake and Lilah have all they can do to keep their hands off each other.

The secondary characters play an integral part in the romance. Eugenia knows full well her old playmate isnít in love with her, but in order to get Drake to open his eyes, she decides he must be given what he thinks he wants - her acceptance of his proposal. This throws a monkey wrench into Drakeís plans, as he must then face the truth - itís no longer Eugenia he really wants.

As for Lilah, she matures very nicely. By the end of the story, I truly believed in their happy-ever-after. And while their relationship may strike some as more combative than necessary, given the careful characterizations presented by the author at the outset, it feels right. Drake and Lilah both need someone willing to take them down a peg, or at least face them unfazed, and thatís exactly what they get. How satisfying.

On a puzzling note, the hero of Farrís last book, Lord Rival, makes a brief appearance here, but itís as an apparent cad and rakehell, with no mention of a wife. Perhaps this book was written first? I was certainly confused, but as itís no more than a brief appearance, it didnít detract from my enjoyment.

Duel of Hearts showcases Diane Farrís talents to their fullest. This one is sure to entertain her readers while gaining her new fans, to boot. Her trademark humor, coupled with a sparkling, spirited romance, make this one a Regency loverís confection.

--Cathy Sova

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