Until Youíre Mine by Lisa Higdon
(Zebra, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-7109-4
Do men in 1814 England really ever ship their wives off to the continent because they have been unfaithful? Do they then fall in love with their mistress? Do women who are actresses and mistresses really dream and aspire to marrying titled gentlemen? If you believe the story in Until Youíre Mine they do.

Julian, Earl of Lockwood found his wife in a compromising situation just hours after their wedding, so he shipped her off to the country. When she then got caught up in a messy scandal involving another manís death, he shipped her to Europe to get her out of his sight. When rumors pop up that he may be interested in his steward (a man), he seeks out a mistress. What he finds is a lovely young woman named Laura Lancaster. She is an American who has a French mother and who is an actress in one of the lesser quality theatres. Initially their agreement is a pact where Laura acts as his mistress but in name only. This suits Laura as she is a virgin.

Once they start acting, they find they are compatible and like each other as friends. Soon they are lovers. But there is the cloud of Julianís marriage hanging over their head. Another cloud is that Laura fled France from a suitor she didnít like. Her mother was a courtesan and she is terrified someone will find that out. When this suitor shows up and blackmails her, she is certain doom is ahead. Finally, Julianís wife shows up and causes problems too. These problems involve naming Julian as a traitor and then Laura as a murderess.

The story is actually enjoyable when it is concentrating on Julian and Laura and their relationship. They laugh, they love and they enjoy each otherís company. Julian is basically a good sort, a Member of Parliament who wants to help those less fortunate than he. Laura is basically down to earth, yet sheís also a young woman with dreams and hopes. She is, however, realistic most of the time in her understanding that she cannot marry Julian.

The secondary characters include Julianís brother, Lauraís actress friend, a con man friend of Lauraís, and the steward Malcolm. They accept the relationship too readily, but otherwise add some spice to the tense moments all are confronted with.

My biggest problem with the story, besides some of the inconsistencies, is that Julian is a married man. I find any romance with a married man hard to swallow. I find it hard to swallow no matter how evil they make the wife (and in this case, she seems to be a witch with no redeeming qualities). So while I enjoyed the bantering and the eventual falling in love of Laura and Julian, I could never fully accept this because of his marital status.

The plot involving the crimes is rather convoluted and predictable. I guessed who was doing things early on and even when the real culprit was unmasked, it seemed anticlimactic, as if the author knew all the readers would have guessed already. That doesnít lend itself to much suspense. And the motive for it all is downright silly. Until Youíre Mine has the potential for being a better book. Some readers may like it better than I did. The two main characters are worthy of a better story. But I canít fully recommend a book I find has so many inconsistencies and predictable plot elements.

--Shirley Lyons

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