The Proper Wife

A Scandalous Proposal

The Wedding Gamble

My Ladyís Trust by Julia Justiss
(Harl. Hist. #591, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-29191-4
This book has entertaining, engaging writing. It has a delightful, beautifully drawn heroine. And it has a hero of such astonishing self-absorption, he could make a mud puddle look deep.

The local doctor is drunk, again, so the squire sends for Laura Martin when his sonís friend Kit is accidentally shot while hunting. She has no experience with bullet wounds, but Laura agrees to give Kit what care she can until his brother arrives. Sheís concerned to find that the brother theyíre awaiting is the Earl of Beaulieu, but hopes he will not connect the drab widow Martin with the shy girl he met six years ago during her debut Season.

Finally Beau and his physician arrive, which Laura thinks will free her. She will be happy to return to her little cottage, inherited from the retired governess who took her in when she was ill, and where she has lived as the widow of a military man.

Unfortunately, Kitís condition remains dire, and Laura is prevailed upon to stay and nurse him. She is too kind to refuse, but before long Beau realizes that she isnít the middle-aged matron she pretends to be, but a pretty young woman.

Beau immediately thinks how convenient it is to have a lovely and discreet widow so close at hand during his brotherís convalescence. He is also struck by the appealing notion of seducing her out here, so far from Society, where his reputation might not be known. She might actually appreciate him for himself alone!

Hmm, would this be the charming self who seduces unprotected widows for fun, or the concerned self who seduces them while his brotherís life is hanging by a thread? Or perhaps he wants appreciation for knowing that women ďvalued baubles, time, attention - and marriage. All he need do is discover which combination of the first three this little brown sparrow desired, and the attraction to him she was taking such pains to suppress would win out.Ē

Itís all perfectly justifiable because he wants her so badly. Heís a little puzzled, though. Since sheís obviously in a precarious financial position, why she isnít more anxious for a protector? Who, he wonders, has knocked all the joy and zest for life out of her? (Letís seeÖ might it have been some selfish cad out for what he could get?)

When Beau and Kitís sister arrives, she is very grateful to brotherís savior. In fact, Ellie wishes to take Laura to London and sponsor her, helping this pleasant young woman to find a husband and new life. Beau is against it, naturally. His idea of gratitude is to make her his mistress. After all, he has lots of money and, when they part, the glory of having been his paramour will give her such social cachet sheíll be able to have her pick of men.

Shortly, however, two local suitors who actually want to marry Laura complicate his seduction. Maybe it would be a good idea to whisk her off to London after all, where he can work unobstructed.

If all this seems to be very much about the, er, gentleman, thatís because for the first half of the book Laura remains something of a genteel cipher. She is hiding from the world, and Ms. Justiss isnít telling us much either - until we realize that itís just her history we donít know. From her every word and action it is clear she is kind, modest, educated, well mannered and a delightful and well-bred lady. Clear, that is, to everyone except Beau, who cannot see past the end of his own arrogance.

Laura deserved redemption, but didnít get one. Beau never paid enough attention to her to realize that her exceptional qualities made her a woman he should honor; he just followed his hormones around. Then, at the end, presented with all the facts of Lauraís life, he realized he was wrong. Gee, what a relief.

Ms. Justiss is clearly a writer of no small ability. She created a lovely heroine in Laura, who was willing to forgive and love Beau. By the end of the book, Iím afraid I wasnít feeling so charitable.

--Judi McKee

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