Counterfeit Kisses

The Faun's Folly

The Magic Jack-o-Lantern

The Haunting of Henrietta

Marigold's Marriages

Shades of the Past

Summers Secret

Easy Conquest by Sandra Heath
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-20448-4
Easy Conquest is one of those books that uses amazing coincidences to string together its story. Some readers wonít care about that. This one was rolling her eyes by page twenty.

Widowed Emily Fairfield has a pile of debts on her shoulders. Her artist husband left them with little money when he was thrown from a horse and killed six months earlier. Emily has to support her mother, Cora, and her thirteen-year-old son, Peter. As Emily explains to her mother, Cora will have no new dresses. Peter may have to give up going to Harrow. The only way out of this mess is to marry her persistent neighbor, Rafe Warrender, a man she dislikes but who will take care of her and pay off the debts.

Cora, after an initial introduction as a demanding twit, shows a bit of backbone and tells Emily she simply cannot marry without love. Cora reveals that she herself gave up her great love, her distant cousin Felix Reynolds, when he wanted to go adventuring in South America. She has regretted it ever since. Emily is sympathetic, but firm. She must marry Warrender.

Switch to a hacienda outside Callao, Peru. Felix is bedridden from the ague, and he pleads with his young companion, Jack Lincoln, to hurry to England and save Emily and Cora. Seems that Felix is actually Emilyís father, and upon his departure from England thirty years earlier, he had left money with a solicitor in case Cora ever needed it. Now the solicitor, a Sir Quentin Brockhampton, is denying all knowledge of the money. Worse, Cora writes that Emily plans to marry her nasty neighbor, Rafe Warrender.

By Amazing Coincidence, Rafe Warrender is Jackís cousin and the dastard who stole Jackís inheritance from him! Jack, along with the haciendaís owner, Cristoval, and an Inca named Manco, set sail for London. Five months later, they arrive in Bristol and Jack heads for Fairfield Hall. Cristoval and Manco go to London, where they stop at a coffeehouse for refreshment. Manco remains outside, but Cristoval sits at a table and orders up a cup.

By Amazing Coincidence, who should sit down next to him but a stranger who turns out to be none other than Sir Quentin Brockhampton, the lying lawyer! Not only does he share Cristovalís table, he spills several documents, the topmost of which is addressed to Mr. Rafe Warrender! Of course Cristoval sees this. When Brockhampton hints he is to depart on an unexpected journey, Cristoval and Manco decide to follow.

I canít help it - this setup is just plain ridiculous. Coincidences like this are nothing more than lazy plotting. The Jack/Rafe connection was bad enough, but there must be fifteen credible ways in which Cristoval could hook up with Brockhampton, including simply requesting an appointment on some pretense, so why sink to this? Is it assumed that readers wonít care? That any kind of implausibility is permitted as long as the hero and heroine get together?

Jack and Emily meet, and are attracted to one another. Just when it looks like he might save her from a huge marital mistake, they share a kiss and Emily then orders him out of the house. Cora intervenes and asks him to stay. Emily insists he should leave. After all, he kissed her! She kissed him back, as he points out, but that doesn't matter. It was all his fault. Cristoval and Manco arrive, and Manco uses his convenient magical Incan powers to foil several deeds by Warrender.

I found precious little to care about in any of these characters. Manco has glimmers of humor, and Jack isnít a bad sort, but the rest of the cast left me cold. As for the romance, itís tepid at best. Why Jack would even want to continue to court Emily after she pulls the shrieking virgin act is a mystery.

Eventually all is sorted out, the villain gets his comeuppance, and the ending is happy. If these sorts of plot manipulations donít bother you, by all means have at it. Maybe Manco and his antics will amuse you. But I found Easy Conquest all too easy to toss aside in disappointment. The Regency genre has much better offerings than this.

--Cathy Sova

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