The Faun's Folly

The Haunting of Henrietta

The Magic Jack-o-Lantern

Marigold's Marriages

Shades of the Past

Summers Secret

Counterfeit Kisses by Sandra Heath
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-45120022-5
Sandra Heath has abandoned the paranormal elements that have characterized her recent Regencies and has instead given us a tale that has elements that approach slapstick comedy. I am not completely sure how I feel about Counterfeit Kisses. The story kept me interested, yet left me somehow dissatisfied. While I enjoyed much of the rather broad humor in the book, I was less happy with the romantic elements. Perhaps because there was so much going on, there was little time to develop the relationship between the hero and heroine.

The story begins when the nasty Duke of Exton cheats young Stephen Holland out of the famous Holland tiara. The duke wants the tiara so that he can win the favors of the desirable actress, Fleur Fitzgerald, whose family claims that the jewels had been illegally taken from them by the Hollands. A bystander at the card game, Sir Gareth Carew, takes the inebriated young man home, only to be berated by Stephenís twin sister Susannah for his complicity in the loss.

Three years later, Susannah is on her way back to England from India. She had married an officer of the East India Company and was not unhappy when her husband died. But now she is a wealthy widow and her prime reason for returning to England is to recover the Holland tiara. She is accompanied on her journey by her Indian ayah and her mischievous monkey, Chatterji.

Fortuitously, shortly after her arrival she meets Jane, the Duchess of Exton. Equally fortuitously, Jane introduces her to Sir Gareth. Indeed, Jane asks Susannah to pretend to be enamored of Sir Gareth to placate her jealous husband. And for a final bit of fortuitous-ness, Susannah and Gareth are invited to Exton Park. Since it is common knowledge that the duke is about to sell the tiara to a Turkish diplomat, our heroine concludes that she has to act quickly.

Of course, the pretended attraction between Susannah and Gareth leads to something real, although the reason the two fall in love is never clearly shown, other than their mutual enjoyment of the kisses they exchange to convince the duke that they are lovers. I really do prefer romances where I am shown the hero and heroine falling in love rather than being told that they do.

There are strange doings afoot at Exton Park. It turns out that Susannah is not alone in her designs on the Holland tiara. What is the duchess hiding? Why is the duke so jealous? Who are his strange footmen? Why does someone try to shoot Gareth? Who is the strange man lurking about? And what mischief will Chatterji and the duchessís poodle Minette get into next?

There is lots of action and excitement in Counterfeit Kisses. There is understandably less character development. Gareth is a pretty stock character, handsome, daring and, of course, a former secret agent for the British government. Susannah is the prototypical feisty heroine; unfortunately, in her effort to make her heroine appear feisty, the author falls into the trap of having her behavior border on foolish. I really do get frustrated when heroines insist on thrusting themselves into dangerous situations because they wonít allow the hero to tell them what to do.

Yet despite the above problems I had with Counterfeit Kisses, it did keep me reading. So if you want a fast-paced story with some nice humor and lots of excitement, you might find this Regency quite acceptable.

--Jean Mason

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