Celia's Grand Passion

Francesca's Rake

Lucy in Disguise

A Midnight Clear

Raven's Bride

Lord Dragoner’s Wife
by Lynn Kerstan
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN: 0-451-19861-1
Lynn Kerstan is another of my favorite Fawcett Regency authors who most happily has been picked up by Signet. Kerstan has the happy faculty, not found in most authors, of being able to write both light and humorous stories and dark and compelling tales. Lord Dragoner’s Wife falls into the latter category. If you like your heroes wounded, well, this is the book for you.

Charles, Lord Dragoner married Miss Delilah Bening six years before the story opens. He was drunk at the ceremony, foxed when he bedded his bride, and the next day he fled the scene. He bought a commission in the army. The year is 1814 and the viscount has been in Paris for four years, after being captured in Spain. He was neither ransomed nor exchanged, a most peculiar situation. The war is over now and Dragoner attends a soiree at the home of the famous Mme. De Stael. There he encounters the newly arrived Duke of Wellington who upbraids the captain as a coward and a deserter. But we soon discover that, in fact, Dragoner has been the Duke’s agent in Paris, a role Wellington wishes him to continue.

But first, Dragoner must return to England to take care of some unfinished business. He must deal with his abandoned wife. He is certain that Delilah will want nothing to do with him. After all, he treated her disgracefully and they had never met before that dreadful wedding.

Delilah is not the young woman he vaguely remembers. She is still diminutive, still has flaming out of control red hair, still has freckles. But his chubby bride has become a slender woman with amazing self-possession and considerable intelligence.

Dragoner informs Delilah that their best course is to seek a divorce. Delilah has a different plan. Since she had fallen in love with her husband from afar and understands very well the devils which drove him from her side, she proposes that they live together for a year to see if they can make something of their marriage.

When Dragoner discovers that his wife’s astute business ability has restored both his fortune and his estate, he is tempted. His nomadic boyhood in the company of his irresponsible parents had given him a deep longing for a home. But duty calls him back to Paris and to the life of deception he has lived for so long. Delilah decides not to give up so easily and follows him, thus embroiling herself in the web of danger and deceit that suffuses the defeated capitol.

Kerstan has managed to make Dragoner a completely sympathetic hero, despite his callous treatment of his wife. We know that beneath his hard surface there is a sadly wounded man who was betrayed by those who should have cared for him. His claims that he is unworthy of Delia and that she would be better off without him are no mere ploys but represent his true feelings about his own worth.

It is in her characterization of Delia that Kerstan really shows her talent. There is a real danger that “Dragoner’s wife” will come across as a real doormat, a woman willing to “stand by her man” whether he wants her or not. But we soon realize that Delia had seen beneath Dragoner’s surface almost from the start and that her feelings are neither foolish nor futile.

If there is any weakness in the book, it lies in the secondary plot which turns on the “conspiracy” which Dragoner is working to uncover while trying to deal with Delia and his feelings towards her. It seems somehow flimsy and unconvincing, although its denouement does allow Dragoner and Delia to act with a fine amount of courage and cleverness.

If the success of a romance depends on the relationship, then Lord Dragoner’s Wife is a clear success. This reader sincerely wanted these two people to work out their problems and have their happily ever after. Dragoner is a prototypical “wounded” hero, and Delia is the one person who can heal him. So if you have a fondness for wounded heroes, you will surely enjoy Lord Dragoner’s Wife.

--Jean Mason

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