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Rhyme & Reason

The Inconvenient Arrangement
by Jo Ann Ferguson
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-821-76122-6
Lorenzo Wolfe formerly a plain Mister, has inherited the title of Earl from an unknown uncle and is now Lord Moorsea, new owner of Moorsea Manor. This estate in Exmoor is a ramshackle place "far, far from anywhere else." This suits Lorenzo to a T. He's a retiring sort himself, and wishes nothing more than to have a quiet place to study history and write poems. The artifice of Town can be left behind, much to his relief.

Moorsea Manor is lit up like a Christmas tree and already inhabited when he arrives. Lady Valeria Fanning is in residence. Seems that Valeria was once the ward of the late earl, and having been left penniless through a series of circumstances, she has come back to Moorsea Manor insisting she is now Lorenzo's "responsibility." With her is eight-year-old David, her nephew and an orphan himself. When Lorenzo gently points out that a guardian's responsibilities end once a ward has come of age, Valeria's eyes fill with tears, and Lorenzo hastily agrees that they can stay for a while.

The house has other oddities, too, including a vast collection of antiquities left by the late earl, a few strange servants, and enough hidden nooks and crannies to keep Lorenzo happily occupied for years with his studies and his writing. Unfortunately for Lorenzo, he's not going to get what he wants.

Valeria no sooner receives reassurance from Lorenzo than she starts planning things like a ball, a party, a few guests after all, she misses The Polite World. When the housekeeper points out that Lorenzo wants peace and quiet, Valeria quickly disagrees:

"That is all well and good if he wishes to live in a morgue. This is a wondrous house that was built to hold many guests. It would be a shame to shut its doors forever."

"My lady -"

"I have an obligation to my nephew. He needs an education and a chance to explore his imagination. I shan't have him spend the rest of his childhood tiptoeing around this house, making no more noise than a mouse."

Since this wonder-child David has just placed the house in an uproar by running away (his favorite pastime), it's a little hard to muster any sympathy for his "education." A firm swat to his backside might be more instructive than a party. But Valeria adores her nephew and defends him time and again. Lorenzo soon decides that the best way to get Valeria taken care of and regain some peace is to get her married off. Surely there must be a likely prospect somewhere in the neighborhood. So he sets out on a quest to find her suitable suitors.

Problem is, Lorenzo is attracted to Valeria himself, and none of the suitors seem quite right. And Valeria finds herself pining for Lorenzo. When an odious viscount shows up holding gambling debts from Valeria's late brother, she is forced to make a decision.

I couldn't muster up more than the mildest degree of enthusiasm for this Regency romance. Lorenzo is a fine fellow, and I found his desire to be antisocial and live a quiet life in the country to be endearing. The problem was my lack of connection with Valeria, who came across as one of the most managing and pushy heroines in recent memory.

One would think that, after throwing herself on Lorenzo's mercy, she could at least respect his wish for a quiet lifestyle. But her pining for The Polite World and her insistence that Moorsea Manor was made for entertaining grew thin very quickly, with the result that I really wanted Lorenzo to marry her off so he could go back to his studies and get the peace he so desired.

By the time Valeria begins to have a change of heart (and manners), I'd pretty much lost interest in her.

But The Inconvenient Arrangement may strike you differently. At the very least, you can take a virtual journey to the wilds of Exmoor, and that's an interesting trip.

--Cathy Sova

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