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A Royal Masquerade
by Arlene James
(Sil. Rom # 1432, $3.50, G) ISBN 0-373-19432-3
****
A Royal Masquerade is the second in the Royally Wed series from Silhouette. Prince Roland of Thortonburg is a bit fed up with the whole royalty thing. As the younger son, his is "spare" status to his older brother's "heir", and being his father, the Grand Duke's, right arm for years hasn't brought him anything but headaches. How he wishes he could ditch the whole deal and go raise prime horses. The latest headache is over a shipping contract that has just been awarded to Thortonburg's rival, the neighboring principality of Roxbury. But the Grand Duke's disappointment is quickly overshadowed by the shocking news that there is another royal Thorton -- a daughter, one he fathered 27 years ago during a brief affair. The Thorton sons have a half-sister, and an unknown enemy is now holding the girl for ransom.

The Montagues, ruling family of Roxbury, are immediate suspects. But how to infiltrate their home and find out if the missing daughter is there? Roland offers himself as a spy. After all, he reasons, he's hardly left the palace in months, he's not a socialite, nobody knows what he looks like, and with his knowledge of horses he can easily pass for a stable hand. If his unknown half-sister is in danger, he wants to help.

Roland fits into the daily life at the Montagues without a hitch -- except for his attraction to one of the ladies-in-waiting, Lily, a lovely young thing as keen on horses as he is. They strike up a cautious friendship, which soon turns to much more. But how will Lily feel when she finds out who Roland really is -- and that he's been using their friendship to gain information on the Montagues? Lily, for her part, has a few secrets of her own.

This was a charming, fast-paced romance with only a few glitches to mar an otherwise flawless presentation. Roland is a delight -- honest, with a wry sense of humor and a deep-down decency that was endearing. Even as he's falling for Lily, he's worrying about how to tell her the truth. When Lily decides to take matters into her own hands, Roland is faced with a difficult decision -- to give in to desire, or to try and hold things at a distance. Readers will certainly empathize with his dilemma.

Lily is also a fun character. Her unwillingness to trust her heart after a humiliating mistake when she was younger sets the stage for an emotional tug-of-war. She loves Roland, but is he going to break her heart?

The only disappointment was the lack of attention to the horsemanship aspect, and here the story stumbled. In one scene, Roland puts an English saddle on a horse, and Lily pulls herself up by its horn. Nope. And the ending stretched the bounds of credulity, again because of an unlikely setup involving riding. Let's just say that Lily would have had the sorest butt in Roxbury if this scenario had played out, and carrying two riders at a full gallop for an hour would tax the most sturdy of horses.

But non-riders may not even notice these types of glitches, and others may well be too caught up in the story to notice in any case. I'll be looking for the next installment in the Royally Wed series, and I recommend A Royal Masquerade to any readers looking for a touch of fairy-tale in their romance.

--Cathy Sova


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