Rhyme & Reason by Jo Ann Ferguson
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-5850-0
***
Emily Talcott has a big secret and a big problem. Her secret is that she's not quite the young lady her family suspects; in fact, she has been writing romantic poetry under the pen name of the Marquis de la Coeur and is becoming quite well-known. Her problem is that her gambling father is depleting the family's fortunes at an alarming rate. If Emily is to see her younger sister Miriam wed, it had better be soon or there will be no money to pay for a wedding.

Miriam isn't exactly cooperating, either. So far, she is enjoying her first Season but showing no particular interest in any of the young men who are flocking around. As the story opens, Emily is waiting up late for her father to come home, dreading his return because she knows he will have been out late losing money at the card tables. She is flabbergasted when none other than Damon Wentworth, a viscount with a decidedly rakish reputation, drags him in.

Emily intrigues Damon. She's obviously intelligent, quite pretty, and has no illusions about her wastrel father. When Damon finds Talcott's hat crushed in his carriage, he decides to return it in person. This leads to an evening at the house of a mutual acquaintance, where Damon and Emily edge nearer to each other. The evening is shattered for Emily when a special guest arrives: the Marquis de la Coeur. How can this be? And what is Emily to do, both about the imposter and the fact that Miriam seems to have fallen headlong for the phony Marquis?

Rhyme and Reason was an entertaining Regency. The story flowed from one locale to the next in a seamless manner, and both Damon and Emily were presented well as intelligent, attracted, and confused about their feelings. I did feel that the story was built on a very shaky foundation, though.

Emily's problems all stem from the fact that her father is gambling the family's money away. This family is presented as a closely-knit threesome, with Emily acting as family accountant. Yet right on the second page,

Emily knew she could not explain to either Miriam or Papa why she was so eager to see her sister wed. Neither of them suspected the fragile state of their household, for she had taken great pains to keep the truth hidden.

For heaven's sake, why? Granted, Regency romances are wrapped in the manners of the period, but building a story on this head-in-the-sand attitude doesn't make any sense. The father is about to put them in the poorhouse, and has no idea he's doing it, even though he's supposedly the head of a shipping firm? And Emily won't tell him? I found this to be an exasperating premise.

Unfortunately, this meant that whenever there was a scene involving the father and his gambling, I had no patience with it at all. This was exacerbated by the denouement, which tied everything up a little too neatly and conveniently.

But that annoyance aside, there is a lot to like in Rhyme and Reason. Spending an evening with a wastrel viscount and a Regency miss who aren't quite what they seem is a good plan, at least to this reader.

--Cathy Sova


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