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The Best Intentions
by Candice Hern
(Signet Regency, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-19573-6
*****
The Best Intentions is a Regency where the ton fades into the background and the people come to the front. And what delightful characters they are! This is one you'll take to your heart. And when I read a galley and then put it on my "To Buy" list, I know it's a keeper.

Miles Prescott, Earl of Strickland, has resolved to marry again. His two small daughters need a mother, and while he knows that his late wife will always remain first in his heart, he longs for the companionship of a mate. Miles' last attempt at a courtship was a mild disaster the young lady married one of his closest friends, instead. Ah, well, perhaps she was too young. Now Miles will find a more suitable bride just as soon as he can get rid of his matchmaking sister and her two guests.

The guests are quite aware of Miles' matrimonial desires. One is very interested, and one couldn't care less. First we have Charlotte, Lady Abingdon, a beautiful widow who wishes to snare the eminently proper (and wealthy) Earl of Strickland. Charlotte is kind, sensible, and looks out for her young half-sister, Hannah. Hannah, nearly twenty, is enough to drive a well-bred chaperone to despair. She has yet to experience her first Season and loathes the thought of entering the Marriage Mart, much preferring her architectural studies, ancient churches being her particular passion. If Charlotte is determined to travel to Epping Hall and meet the Earl, well, Hannah will accompany her but only to get a good look at the Saxon church of St. Biddulph, which lies close to the earl's estate.

Miles is initially quite taken with Charlotte, who appears to be the perfect wife-to-be. Hannah, on the other hand, is far too young (being thirteen years his junior), cares nothing for fashion, and speaks her mind at inappropriate times. An unsuitable bride for just about anyone. Or so Miles thinks. Of course, readers know that it's only a matter of time before Miles changes his mind.

This book is an exquisite journey. The plot is basic, and that frees the author to delve into her characters. Candice Hern brings them to life. And in doing so, she turns the tables a bit in this story, it is Hannah who is the wiser, the freer, the one able to laugh and enjoy life and be amazed at the world around her. Miles, repressed and restricted, gradually learns to unbend and finds inside himself a man he's hidden for too long. Hannah will never be his late wife, but it's just possible she will be something even better.

There were a couple of standout scenes in the book. One involved Miles strolling with Hannah around the church of St. Biddulph and realizing that here is a mind as keen as his own, one with whom he can connect, and on a subject dear to both of them architecture. It's a gentle revelation, and nothing makes a stronger sexual foundation than two minds connecting. Another was the interaction of Miles' daughters with Hannah, who is still young enough at heart to understand what they need. As Hannah continues to be herself and a somewhat bewildered Miles continues to reach out to her, their love takes root and grows.

Don't discount sexual tension because this is a Regency. It's here in spades, and when Miles finally loses his inhibitions along with his control and drags Hannah into his arms, on the floor of the church no less, readers will send up a silent cheer.

Don't miss The Best Intentions. Candice Hern has crafted a joyous, passionate tale full of life and laughter, one that readers will savor long after the cover is closed.

--Cathy Sova


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