The Best Intentions

The Bride Sale

Her Scandalous Affair

In the Thrill of the Night

Miss Lacey's Last Fling

Once a Dreamer
Once a Gentleman

Once a Scoundrel

Just One of Those Flings
by Candice Hern
(Signet Eclipse, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-21920-1
Candice Hern is back in fine form in the next installment of her Merry Widows series. A hot romance between two people who arenít looking for love makes Just One of Those Flings a delicious summer treat.

Beatrice, Lady Somerfield, is a pretty widow who is spending the Season chaperoning her headstrong, beautiful niece, Emily. Emilyís mother, who is Beatriceís sister, is laid up with a broken leg. Itís important for Emily to snag a rich suitor so her motherís gambling debts can be retired. And Emily is fully aware that she is the prettiest debutante of the year. Beatrice has her hands full with Emily, but she has decided to somehow take a lover. Itís what each of the Merry Widows have decided to do.

Dressed as Artemis at a masquerade ball, Beatrice is intrigued by a dark man in costume as an Indian maharaja. Though she doesnít know it, he is Gabriel Loughton, Marquess of Thayne, and heís the heir to a dukedom. Gabriel has just returned from eight years in India, and since he promised his parents heíd select a bride by the time he reached thirty, heís looking over the current crop for a suitable miss. Love is not an object. He just wants someone pretty, with nice manners, who will make a suitable duchess. All that changes when he gets a glimpse of Beatrice.

A dance turns to an interlude on the terrace, which leads to an unexpected sexual encounter. They are both masked and donít know one another, which suits Beatrice just fine as the reality of her actions sink in. Gabriel, however, is determined to find his Artemis and make her his mistress, at least for a while. By the time they do discover one anotherís identities, Emily is in the running to be Gabrielís bride. A steamy affair with the lovely Beatrice changes Gabrielís mind about marrying for convenience. But how can he convince her to abandon their affair and become his wife? And when Emily finds out the truth, her rash actions may jeopardize everything.

There were many, many good points to this story. First is the character of Beatrice, who is thirty-five and a grown woman, not a debutante. Mother of two young daughters, she embarks on the affair with Gabriel knowing that he will likely find her wanting, but not able to resist. Beatrice revels in their affair as her passionate side is allowed to emerge. Her intelligence and pragmatism are refreshing. As for Gabriel, heís bored to death by the schoolroom misses thrown at his head, even the luscious Emily. He wants a woman, not a child, and Beatrice is his perfect partner. His biggest task will be convincing her that the five-year age gap is inconsequential.

After their first encounter, itís some time before Beatrice and Gabriel return to a physical relationship, and Ms. Hern brings a lovely tension to their story. When they do reconnect, itís sensual and spicy. Not quite an R rating, but certainly a step up from the average historical romance in the sex department.

I admit I could have done without the several scenes in which Beatrice discusses her affair with the four other Merry Widows. Since the reader already knows whatís going on, these felt as though they were inserted to remind the reader that there are more Widows to come in future books. It was hard not to skim past these scenes and get back to the real story.

There is a bit of intrigue to help the story along and give Beatrice and Gabriel something to do, and it also sets up the next book in the series with an interesting hero that, at first glance, seems beyond redemption. Having said that, I canít wait to see how she does it. And the cover art is lovely, from a nineteenth-century painting, no less. Kudos to Signet for trying something new Ė it works.

Just One of Those Flings is a delightful romance with plenty to set it apart from the crowd. Itís reassuring that one of the best Regency authors around has found a home in longer historicals. Candice Hernís talent is one to savor.

--Cathy Sova

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