Reilly’s Law by Elizabeth Keys
(Kensington Ballad, $5.50, PG) ISBN 0-8217-6647-3
Three hearts Reilly’s Law is a debut book in a debut line by a debut writing team. One of the new Ballad historical romances from Kensington (see our interview about the Ballad line), this is the first in a trilogy featuring three Irish brothers whose grandmother has passed down the story of The Blessing a stroke of ultimate good fortune that is fated to befall each of them, if they are only wise enough to recognize it when it happens.

Bryan Reilly, solicitor, is on his way to Liverpool aboard one of his family’s ships when he is accosted at the dock by a young woman dressed in widow’s weeds. Before Bryan has time to blink, she has hurled herself into his arms, kissed him, and is whispering frantic pleas to play along with her act in order to save two small children. Bryan decides that it’s no hardship kissing a pretty woman, so when the lady refers to him as “husband,” he shrugs it off and helps her secure passage to England.

Emilynne (awkward name, that -- just how is it pronounced?) has lost her brother and sister-in-law to an “accident” that was not an accident. Now her despicable uncle, the wealthy Thaddeus Whyte, is attempting to retain custody of Robert and Gail’s children a custody that Emilynne knows should be hers. She fears that Thaddeus will take the children away, so she’s fleeing back to England and the family home. Pretending to be the wife of a respectable gentleman may throw her pursuers off the scent, at least long enough to reach the safety of her intended husband. That her fiancé is one of Robert’s best friends should provide her with a modicum of stability. Her studies of ancient stone circles will have to be abandoned in order to care for the children.

But what about her attraction to the darkly handsome Bryan Reilly? And Bryan, for all his intentions to see Emilynne safely to Bristol and then move on to his business of saving the family shipyards, finds he cannot leave her. When her fiancé turns out to be less than desirable and Thaddeus’ men turn up, Bryan is drawn into a net of deceit that will circle back to his own firm of solicitors, forcing him to make a difficult choice.

Reilly’s Law shows a great deal of promise. The plot is fresh and inventive, and Bryan is a delightful hero strong and passionate, but aware of his own failings. Indeed, it’s alluded to time and again that he let down his family in the past, and the continued references to this failure may become a bit irritating after a while. However, when the chips are down, Bryan is all that a hero should be for the woman he’s come to love, his Blessing, which he’s smart enough to recognize.

Emilynne (I kept hearing “Emily inn”, surely not the correct pronunciation) is more uneven. She vacillates between bold and desperately determined (throwing herself at Bryan on the dock) to outraged and missish (when they are forced to share a single inn room with the children for a night). To be honest, she was much more engaging being bold. Her swings in behavior were a little hard to take, with the result that the middle of the book dragged a bit.

The book picks up a lot of steam toward the end, after Thaddeus and his sidekick show up to harass Emilynne and make threats. The ending ties things up a bit too neatly, but Bryan’s determination to keep his Blessing is fun and brings the romance to a satisfactory conclusion.

It’s always a treat to see an inventive effort from a talented new writing team. If Reilly’s Law is a representative sample, the Ballad line is off to a respectable start.

--Cathy Sova

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