Duel of Hearts

The Fair Game

Falling For Chloe

The Fortune Hunter

The Nobody

Once Upon a Christmas

Under the Wishing Star
by Diane Farr
(Signet, $6.50, PG) ISBN 0-451-21023-9
Diane Farr has emerged as one of the most consistently entertaining Regency authors writing today. Under the Wishing Star is trademark Farr with its appealing hero and fresh storyline. However, several large plot holes and some inconsistent behavior on the part of the heroine lessen its impact.

Miss Natalie Whittaker is fed up with life under her younger half-brother’s roof. Hector and his whining wife are the new owners of Crosby Hall, and they take a perverse delight in making Natalie’s life miserable. Feeling frustrated and helpless, Natalie sets off for a walk to the village one day and comes across a little girl outside the local inn, talking to herself. Natalie amuses the child with a story of an imaginary playmate, and they establish an immediate rapport.

Malcolm Chase can scarcely believe his eyes. His shy, withdrawn little girl is chattering away to a total stranger, and a very pretty stranger at that. Malcolm decides to offer Natalie the position of governess, at a handsome salary. Natalie is at first nonplussed, then intrigued. It would be a perfect way to get out from under Hector’s roof. But her plans are dashed when she discovers that Malcolm Chase is the second son of a duke, and her new neighbor to boot. Hector blackmails her into turning Malcolm down. However, Natalie isn’t willing to give up her new friends and devises another plan: she agrees to visit every day and become Sarah’s teacher. And spend time with Malcolm, as well.

Malcolm is a recent widower with an unhappy marriage behind him. He and Natalie bond so quickly, though, that soon he’d like nothing more than to marry her and bring her home for good. It seems the perfect solution, and they get along so well. Natalie, however, will have none of it. She wants to marry for love, and Malcolm doesn’t believe in it. The more time they spend together, the more Natalie and Malcolm fall for each other, until Hector forces their hand and they do, indeed, marry. By this time, Malcolm well and truly loves Natalie anyway, and tells her so.

So everything’s turned out well, right? Nope. In an incomprehensible move that felt completely forced, Natalie decides that Malcolm doesn’t really love her – he’s just trying to placate her. No matter that, until this point, Malcolm has been the soul of honesty and decency, making it clear that he desires Natalie and wants her in his life.

This determined martyrdom on Natalie’s part just did not sit well with me. As a twenty-four year old spinster with no prospects of marriage, you’d think she’d jump at the chance to marry a kindhearted, attractive man who genuinely cares for her. But no! He must be truly, deeply in love with her, or forget it! And it’s a shame, because Malcolm and Natalie are quite an amusing couple. The author wisely gives her characters plenty of time to get to know one another, and their attraction felt natural and authentic. Malcolm’s somewhat clumsy attempts at courting Natalie are endearing, and for the most part, Natalie approaches her situation with grace and a good deal of humor.

Malcolm, while a great hero, is a bit of a puzzle. He’s a duke’s son, and we are given hints in the story that his older brother will not be producing an heir. Therefore, Malcolm’s own son will likely inherit the dukedom one day. Yet nobody in his family makes a single appearance in the book. One would think that they’d at least show up to give Natalie the once-over, since her family is respectable, but by no means noble.

The sexual tension is strong between Malcolm and Natalie, and used to great effect. It’s the catalyst for Malcolm to discover his true feelings, and eventually for Natalie to begin to believe that Malcolm truly does love her. Well done.

Everything wraps up very tidily, perhaps too tidily, at the end. Everyone is happy, with the exception of Hector and his abrasive wife. And the door is left open for another story featuring Natalie’s other brother, Derek.

I enjoyed most of Under the Wishing Star, and Malcolm may well steal readers’ hearts. In the end, though, the niggling questions just wouldn’t go away. Diane Farr’s talents are undeniable, and if she has Derek’s story up her sleeve, I’ll definitely pick it up. Hopefully her next heroine will shine as strongly as her heroes do.

--Cathy Sova

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