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The Reluctant Bride
by Cindy Holbrook
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6062-9
A Regency romp! This is the only way to describe Cindy Holbrook's latest book. Light, amusing, entertaining, etc., etc, and so forth. That the author manages to provide three sweet romances for the price of one is another benefit.

Alexander Rothmeir, Marquis of Wyndham has reached the advanced age of thirty unwed. But the women in his family are pressing him to do his duty by fulfilling the commitment his father made years ago and marry the eldest daughter of the Earl of Stanton. Since the young lady in question has now reached the age of nineteen and has apparently been expecting his offer, Alexander agrees to take the plunge.

The Earl of Stanton is absolutely delighted that Wyndham has finally come up to scratch, and not a moment too soon. The family is facing financial disaster, but an alliance with one of the richest members of the ton will solve all their problems. His wife Louisa can continue to shop till she drops; his son Michael can pursue his career as a young man about town; and the earl himself can continue to drink, gamble and be generally irresponsible. The only person who is not happy with the prospect of this marriage is his daughter Josephine, the only real adult in the rackety family.

When Alexander, on bended knee, makes his offer, Josephine, to his amazement, turns him down. Emily believes that even the Wyndham fortune cannot support the Stantons and, if they must finally abandon the idea that this marriage is going to save their groats, then the family will finally be forced to face reality. Alexander is understandably relieved to be free of a marriage he was not particularly enthusiastic about, but he is intrigued by the intelligent and self-possessed young lady who has declined the honor of becoming his wife.

Having rejected her suitor, Josie determines that she must take steps to bring the family about. These steps, often outrageous but always amusing, bring her again and again into Alex's orbit and he finds himself trying to protect her from the consequences of her acts. And the more Alex sees of Josie, the more he finds himself attracted to her.

Alex is a fairly typical Regency hero, a man who has enjoyed a life of pleasure and who is surprised to discover that he is falling in love. Josie is a more problematic character. On the one hand, she is intelligent and capable; on the other, she is remarkably innocent about the world and life. Holbrook manages to make this paradox plausible, no mean feat.

In addition to the primary love story, Holbrook provides romances for Josie's twin brother Michael and her sweet younger sister Mary. She creates a fun cast of amusing secondary characters that enliven the story. And she sure does know how to write funny scenes. The debacle of a dinner party had me laughing out loud.

I do have my usual quibble with Holbrook's accuracy regarding the details of Regency social niceties. She really ought to get a handle on the use of titles. And I have to hope that it was an officious copy editor who changed Whig to Wig. But these error seemed somewhat less egregious than in the last book I reviewed.

So, if you want a light and funny Regency romance, The Reluctant Bride should be just your cup of tea.

--Jean Mason

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