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Valentine Wedding by Jane Feather
(Bantam, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-553-57893-6
****
Jane Feather is an author I always buy but don't always like. There's a contradiction for you! But the fact is that some of her books are on my keeper shelves and others I actually didn't finish. Her latest Regency historical clearly is on the high end of my personal scale. Valentine Wedding offers a strong heroine, an intriguing hero, a sensuous romance, and an intriguing plot.

It is July, 1810 and two British officers are riding desperately towards the lines of Torres Verdes. One has been mortally wounded. Edmund Beaumont, Earl of Grantly knows his life is ebbing. He insists that his companion leave him, taking with him the documents that must go to London and a letter for his beloved sister, Emma. The earl dies with his sister's name on his lips.

Five months later, that sister, though mourning her brother sincerely, is not happy with his last will and testament. Ned has left his considerable fortune to his sister, but he has appointed Alasdair Chase her trustee until such time as she marries. Emma is furious.

Alasdair had been Ned's best friend since Eton. He had spent all his school vacations with the Beaumonts rather than with his uncaring family. He is handsome, daring, even charismatic, and Emma had fallen in love with him when she was eight and Alasdair was fourteen. But three years earlier, Emma had fled, leaving Alasdair almost literally at the altar. Now, thanks to her brother's machinations, Alasdair is back in her life and she is not happy.

Alasdair and Emma are clearly soul-mates, perfect for each other. They had anticipated their wedding vows and were as compatible physically as in every other way. What then had driven them apart?

I can hear some readers saying, "Oh no, a 'big misunderstanding' plot." But Feather is too talented an author to create a disagreement that could be settled with a bit of open communication. What Emma had found out about Alasdair could easily have sent a sensitive young woman fleeing. And yet, Alasdair's actions are not such as to detract from him as a hero.

Now thrown together again, Alasdair and Emma find that the old hurts are still painful; they also find that the attraction is also very much alive. Emma, determined to free herself from Alasdair's control, threatens to find a husband and a lover by Valentine's Day. To quote the back blurb (accurate for once) "Alasdair vows she won't unless he becomes both her lover and her husband."

But there are sinister forces at work. It turns out that there was a mix-up in sending Ned's final letters. The dispatch, suitably disguised, has gone astray. The British government has concluded that Emma must have the papers. Alasdair is recruited to discreetly discover if this is the case, without letting Emma know what is happening. (The unwillingness of the British government to simply go to Emma and say, "Hey, did you get some strange correspondence from your brother?" caused me a few problems, although Feather does a pretty good job of explaining away the almost unexplainable.)

However, French agents have reached the same conclusion and send one of their best men to retrieve this crucial document. So, in addition to winning back his love, Alasdair must save her from Napoleon's heartless minions.

The derring-do, though well done, takes a back seat to the romance in Valentine Wedding. Emma is not your typical Regency miss. She is bold and strong-minded and unconventional. Alasdair is a witty, suave, and smooth hero who recognizes that Emma is his perfect mate, but who finds it hard to open up and let her into the hidden places of his life until it is almost too late. But he sure knows how to seduce her!

Valentine Wedding is a fast-paced, entertaining, and well-written romance. When Feather is good, she is very good.

--Jean Mason


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