One Night with a Prince
by Sabrina Jeffries
(Pocket Star, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-7434-7772-3
****
Bloody hell! I thought to myself when I picked up One Night with a Prince. Not another story about a womanizing gambler who doesn't believe in love and a prim and proper widow posing as a couple to get back damaging letters! Am I really going to plod through three-hundred-something pages of him assuring himself he is not in love? (Him love? Oh no, not he. He doesn't do love. Never. This is something else.) And what about all those paragraphs and paragraphs and paragraphs where she imagines his mouth doing something other than smirk? (But only imagine because heavens! he is the wrong sort and she could never let him so much as kiss her and she could never, never share him with all his many mistresses.) Do I really have to work my way through all those blatantly contrived encounters that throw them together and all those frustrating interruptions that keep them apart, until at last they see what we have known from the start: that they are just perfect together?

I might have winced and blasphemed and complained, but I hadn't reckoned with the talented Ms Jeffries. Not only did I race through the book, I was also smiling quite happily all the way (almost all anyway). It just goes to show how smooth writing, witty dialogue and layered characters can breathe life into even the stalest of plots and the most overdone personality types.

Christabel, the Marchioness of Haversham must get back letters her now-deceased husband gambled away or see both her father ruined and a major political scandal throw the kingdom into complete disarray. To gain access to the house of the man who has them, she convinces gaming-club owner Gavin Byrne to let her pose as his mistress. Of course, he doesn't see why she should stop at posing. Nor does he see why he shouldn't get hold of those letters himself. He would love to bring down the man who abandoned his mother and him to abject poverty, even if that man happens to be the Prince of Wales. Because like his two half-brothers, whose stories are told in the other books in the Royal Brotherhood Series, Gavin is the (fictitious) illegitimate son of the Prince Regent.

Though Christabel and Gavin have conflicting objectives, they are an extremely well-matched pair. He is a charming scoundrel. Yet despite his protests, she recognizes he has a heart. She is headstrong, intelligent and kind. And despite her propriety, he is drawn to the passion underneath. Small wonder the seduction scenes simmer with just the right blend of tension, sensuality and humor as each tries to have the winning hand. The most delicious of these involves Whist for the Wicked (think strip poker), which also showcases Jeffries' knowledge of both the card game and period clothing.

Every turn of the story is predictable, but because the pacing is just right, it really doesn't matter. Gavin and Christabel fall into bed not a moment too soon and resolve their differences without a protracted period of misunderstanding. I did find the conclusion just a tiny bit drawn out, but that, in the end, is only a minor detraction in what is a highly entertaining read.

--Mary Benn


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