Lucy in Disguise by Lynn Kerstan
(Fawcett Regency, $4.99, PG) ISBN 7-449-00184-9
****
Lynn Kerstan moves onto my personal short list of must-read Regency authors with Lucy in Disguise. This is a snappy, fast-paced, entertaining tale with a wonderfully witty hero, an intriguing plot, and enough charm to win over the most blasť of readers.

Lucy Preston is secreted in an abandoned cottage on the coast of England with her young friend, Diana Whitney. Diana is running from a guardian who has already hurt her physically, and now wants to marry her off to a man Diana despises. Lucy, being older and wiser, has left her governess post and is helping shield Diana. So far, aided by two quiet friends, they have succeeded in keeping the locals at bay.

Lucy spies lights on the sands of Morecame Bay one night and slips down the cliffs, dressed in men's clothing, to investigate. She ends up rescuing a man named Kit whose leg is pinned under a box with the tides fast approaching. Reluctantly, she half-drags Kit to the cottage in order to help him heal. Diana stays out of sight.

Christopher "Kit" Etheridge Valliant is no smuggler. He's the younger son of an earl, a position that has left him at loose ends for most of his life. A conversation overheard in a pub led to his involvement on the sands, and now he's tucked away in a tumbledown cottage with a boy named "Luke" to help him. Kit is no fool. He knows Luke is really a girl, and his natural curiosity and inborn gallantry make him decide to help this pretty young woman.

I found Kit to be a most delightful and unusual hero. He's a man who, up to this point, has been quite happy to roam Europe and let his older brother dole out the allowance money and run the family estate. When he meets Lucy, his desire to help her is touching. Kit reviews his options and concludes that the best one is to take the ladies to the family estate and let his formidable brother take them under his wing. Perhaps their combined efforts can convince Diana's guardian to relinquish his rights. As for his love for Lucy, Kit falls early on and never wavers. Now it's up to him to convince Lucy that a former governess can be an equal match for an untitled younger son.

Romance is always more fun when the lead characters can play off each other's personalities. Lucy was a bit more sharp-edged than Kit, but equally compelling. Her acerbic wit was a perfect foil for this easygoing hero; he's the one person who can put Lucy off guard by simply laughing at her when she starts in on him. Lucy's intelligence pushes Kit to use his own fine mind to think a way out of their dilemma, which he does with elan. And his slightly flamboyant side livened up serious Lucy. Well-matched, indeed.

There are other lively elements to the story. There is a small owl named Fidgets who steals a few scenes. Diana is no empty-headed miss; she's worthy of her own book and I hope Ms. Kerstan's thoughts are leaning in that direction. And there are a couple of scenes involving fake sorcery and a neighbor's ball which are priceless.

My only beef was with the cover, which had nothing to do with anything except there was a cliff in the background. Blond Lucy is shown as a redhead; sandy-haired Kit is shown as a dark brunet. Ah, well. Maybe Fawcett is using up its cover art in preparation for the end of the Regency line later this year.

Regency fans will find Lucy in Disguise to be the perfect cup of tea for a summer's afternoon. Let's hope we see more of Lynn Kerstan at another publishing house. She's too good to lose.

--Cathy Sova


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