Beauty and the Baron
by Deborah Hale
(Harlequin Hist., $5.25, PG) 0-373-29255-4
Angela Lacewood is looking forward to a relaxing several months while her relatives are on the Continent for an extended excursion.  After their parents died, her aunt and uncle took in Angela and her younger brother.  Since then, she has been treated as the poor relation.  Her younger brother is away at school and dreams of buying a commission in the military so that he can follow their father's footsteps in India.  Their uncle, however, expects Miles to take a position as a clerk in an office. 

A kindhearted woman, Angela is known in the area as someone who helps those who are troubled and lonely.  She has become a good friend of the elderly earl who lives in the estate next to her family's land. One afternoon, she is very surprised to see the earl's reclusive grandson in her home.  Lord Lucius Daventry returned from Waterloo with an injury to one eye and the face around it.  Even though Angela is frequently in his home to visit his grandfather, she has seldom seen Lucius.  Strong light causes his damaged eye pain, so he usually sleeps during the day and roams at night.  The village people call him "Lord Lucifer" because of his dark clothing and nightly wanderings.

Angela is greatly surprised when Lucius asks her to pretend to be his fiancée.  He tells her that his grandfather's doctor has secretly told Lucius that the earl is very ill and has only a few months to live.  The earl has been trying to get the two of them together and this seems a way to make him happy for his last months.  Afterward, she would break the engagement and they could go their separate ways.  He even offers to sponsor her brother as part of the deal.  After some thought, Angela agrees to the arrangement.

This is very much a "beauty & the beast" story.  Angela is the kindhearted young woman who does not realize she is as lovely on the outside as she is on the inside.  Lucius holds his emotions and his heart tightly reined because of the physical and emotional scars he suffered during the war.  Despite his desire for Angela, he does not feel worthy of her.  Angela takes time to learn that Lucius’s rejections of her are not because she is wanting, but because he is afraid.  The first two-thirds of the story are very sweet as she slowly begins to break down the walls he has around his heart. 

The last third of Beauty and the Baron drags a bit because of a separation sequence that lasts too long.  There is also a nod to the "Cyrano de Bergerac" tale that is entertaining but not quite believable.  The sweetness and gentleness of the early part of the story was my favorite part but it was mostly absent toward the end.  

Overall, this is a nice interpretation of a classic tale that simply went on just a little too long.

--B. Kathy Leitle

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