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To Marry an Heiress by Lorraine Heath
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-81742-X
***
I understand that western romances are declining in popularity and that editors seem convinced that all historical romances should be set in 19th century England. But it is a pity that one of our best western romance authors has abandoned Texas and followed the crowd across the Atlantic. At least five of Lorraine Heath’s wonderful Texas romances sit on my keeper shelves. To Marry an Heiress will find its way to the library booksale.

This novel is a fairly standard “marriage of convenience” story. Georgina Pierce is in London with her father to visit an old friend from Texas whose mother married an English earl. The year is 1878 and Victorian proprieties are in full force. Gina is not happy in London and not comfortable in high society. Her father had made and lost several fortunes and Gina is used to a much more exciting life. New York society had rejected the Pierces and broke her mother’s heart. Now, her father has an idea about how to get revenge: he will marry his daughter to an English nobleman.

Devon Sheridan, Earl of Huntingdon, needs a wealthy wife. His father had left his son in financial difficulties and Devon, although he has worked hard to improve the situation, needs an infusion of cash. His first wife had not adapted well to the straightened circumstances or with Devon’s singular decision to work his own lands with his own hands. When the chance to marry a wealthy American heiress arises, Devon jumps at it, even if it comes with the requirement that he woo Gina and convince her that he loves her.

Gina is wise to her father’s plans and would have rejected the idea except that she meets Devon at a ball and is immediately attracted to the handsome earl. Somewhat to her surprise, she accepts his proposition and, within a week, the two are married. Somewhat to Devon’s surprise, he finds himself attracted to his unusual wife. She may not be conventionally beautiful, but she has that special something. It appears that all will be well. But the best laid plans and all that.

Devon and Gina bear all too much resemblance to stock characters. He is the haughty aristocrat, caught up in maintaining appearances and proper behavior. He does possess the good aristocratic quality of caring about his land and his people. And, of course, he is the unhappily married widower who will never love again. Gina is not only an American, but one who has known hard work and values it. She has no patience with the pretentious propriety of the English aristocracy. Her spontaneity begins to melt the rigid rules and to challenge the outdated notions that her husband espouses.

While Heath offers an unusual twist to the traditional “marriage of convenience” story, this is not enough to set the book apart or to make it memorable. Heath’s Texas books packed an emotional punch that is simply missing in To Marry an Heiress. They also conveyed a sense of place and time that this story does not have. The characters in her western romances were fully developed and often unique. All of these qualities which made Heath’s books so good are absent here.

Heath is a talented author so that, even if To Marry an Heiress does not live up to the standards she has set for herself, it is still an acceptable historical romance. Perhaps my disappointment with the book is a result of the high expectations I have of this author. I do hope she will return home and regain her form in the future.

--Jean Mason


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