One Moonlight Night

A Perfect Bride

A Perfect Hero by Samantha James.
(Avon, $6.99, R). ISBN 0-06-000663-3.
Imagine you are kidnapped by a highwayman and held captive in his forest hideout. Imagine you are clever enough to trick your captor out of a pistol. Imagine you are spirited enough to shoot and wound him. I would imagine the last thing you would do is feel sorry for him and give up your new-found hopes for freedom to nurse him back to health. Of course, if you don't stay, you might be giving up your only chance at true love. For such indeed is the reward for Lady Juliana Clare Sterling's good deed in Samantha James's A Perfect Hero.

After being jilted at the altar by her fiancÚ four years earlier, the last of the unmarried Sterling siblings believes happy-ever-after with true love and family is not for her. She is on her way to Bath to pursue her spinster existence, when the public coach in which she travels is stopped by The Magpie, a notorious highwayman.

Of course, the robber never expected the coachman to resist, causing an accident that results in his untimely death and Juliana's concussion. Somewhat guilt-stricken, he carries the unconscious beauty to his retreat and tries to deal with these unexpected turns of events.

áJuliana's first thought on recovering is to escape, but Dane - as The Magpie asks to be called - is not the blackguard and thief she believes him to be. Both are careful not to reveal to each other exactly who they are. But they cannot hide their true honorable and kind selves and slowly fall in love. Knowing there is no future for them, he sets her free. She wishes it could be otherwise and more than regrets her return to the real world. So she is more than surprised when she meets him at a society ball. The Magpie is, in fact, one of London's most eligible bachelors.

Their relationship picks up where it left off, but the pacing in this second part of the novel is quicker now that the story alternates sensual courtship scenes with action. Juliana convinces the initially reluctant Dane to reveal the reasons for his dangerous masquerade. Together, the lovers capture a dangerous criminal and solve an old family secret. It is here that Juliana proves herself a perfect match for the Napoleonic war veteran. She may have been tender-hearted enough to look after her kidnapper, but she is not sentimental and soft-hearted when it comes to protecting innocents and defending her man.

This third and last volume in Samantha James's trilogy about the unmarried Sterling siblings stands on its own. Readers familiar with Sebastian and Justin Sterling will nevertheless be glad to see them so well adjusted to family life. Some questions raised in the previous volumes are also somewhat resolved.

Despite a few implausibilities, for those like myself who meet the family for the first time, the daring heroine and dashing hero offer an entertaining, well-paced read.

--Mary Benn

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