Other Carla Kelly titles are available in the Archives.

Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand
by Carla Kelly
(Sweetwater Books, $8.99, PG) ISBN 978-1462110605
Carla Kelly's early Regencies have been out of print for ages, so when one is re-released, it's cause for celebration. Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand is a unique and delightful romance, one for readers to savor.

Roxanna Drew is the young widow of a vicar. Left alone and virtually penniless with two small daughters to support, she is approached by her lecherous brother-in-law, who offers her a home in return for her favors. Roxie is determined to avoid this fate, and she takes a daring chance. For a rent of only ten pounds per year, she moves herself and her children into an abandoned dower house on the estate of the Marquess of Winn, who hasn't been seen in the area in years. With a little elbow grease, Roxie plans to make the house livable for the winter.

Her plans go awry when Fletcher Rand, the long-absent marquess, appears on her doorstep one snowy night and needs shelter. Fletcher, a war hero, has been shunned by Society. While he was fighting for his country, his wife was taking lover after lover, and Fletcher did the unthinkable - he divorced her. Society won't forgive him, not that he gives a damn. Despite his deep loneliness, Fletcher has no intention of marrying again.

Yet the marquess and the pretty widow become friends, and he is soon acting as somewhat of a father figure to her daughters. Then the brother-in-law reappears, threatening to take the children away by claiming Roxie is an unfit mother. Fletcher can only think of one way to protect Roxie and the girls: a quick trip over the Scottish border and a hasty marriage.

This is a bare outline of a complex and moving story. Roxie and Fletcher are wonderful, three-dimensional characters whose relationship develops into a deep love almost without them realizing it. And they are a study in contrasts; Roxie had a loving marriage to a man she adored, but watched him slowly waste away from a fatal illness.She misses the physical side of marriage and takes long walks to tamp down her longings. Fletcher has nothing but bad memories of his own marriage. With Roxie, though, he begins to sense what a marriage should be like, and he soon finds himself ensnared in ways he never expected.

Roxie's two small daughters are delightful characters, too. They're portrayed as realistic children, and their interactions with Fletcher are priceless. In a nifty twist, it's Fletcher who blossoms in this story, and his sense of humor and fun emerge as he is drawn into Roxie's little family. When their relationship finally becomes physical, it's as warm and loving as a reader could wish.

Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand is a gem of a story, not to be missed. Readers, buy a copy and help keep Carla Kelly's older titles in print!

--Cathy Sova

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