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An Outrageous Proposal
by April Kihlstrom
(Signet, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-19594-9
****
April Kihlstrom has finally married off the last of the Earl of Westcott's five daughters. And in this reader's opinion, the first and the last books in the series were the best of the bunch. The story of the unusual courtship of Lady Penelope Westcott by Mr. Geoffrey Talbot provided me with a most enjoyable read and I got so involved that my husband had to nudge me to look up from the book and enjoy the scenery on our great western trek.

For those who have not read the other Westcott books (and you do not need to read the previous books to enjoy this one), Lady Penelope is the youngest of the earl's daughters, although she does have a fraternal twin sister. All of her sisters have married and Lady Penelope is in her second season. She has announced to all and sundry that she does not wish to marry. She rightly fears that any man who would be deemed suitable by her family would not look favorably on her intellectual pursuits and her independent turn of mind. Moreover, she is quite aware that a married woman has few rights and is completely at the mercy of the man she marries. Lady Penelope has made a calculated decision that she will be happier unwed.

Then Geoffrey Talbot enters her life. Geoffrey, himself a man of intellectual interests, has decided that Lady Penelope would be the perfect wife. She is bright, beautiful and well dowered. That he is not in love with her is immaterial. He does not believe in love. But Geoffrey is well aware of Penelope's resistance to marriage. And so he embarks on a devious scheme that will allow him to woo his chosen bride without her rejecting him out of hand.

Geoffrey convinces Penelope that like her he is under intolerable family pressure to marry and like her, he doesn't want to. So Geoffrey suggests a sham betrothal. This would have the happy effect of dissipating family pressure, but Penelope can see a further advantage: if she cries off (which she firmly intends to do), she will lose her social position and her attractiveness as a marriage prospect.

I think any experienced reader can predict the direction the story will take but Kihlstrom does add some neat twists. Such as Penelope's conclusion as to why Geoffrey does not want to marry. Of course, both parties who are in fact so well matched begin to fall in love. But Penelope is still not reconciled to the wedded state. And when she discovers Geoffrey's deception, well.... she wonders if she can ever trust him.

And Geoffrey also has to come to terms with what it will mean to marry a woman of independent mind and spirit. He has to understand that those very qualities which make Penelope so interesting preclude her being a properly submissive wife.

I liked the fact that Kihlstrom actually dealt with the post-marriage problems of two strong-minded people, although I had a bit of trouble with the finale it seemed a bit over the top.

All in all, I really enjoyed An Outrageous Proposal. I liked becoming reacquainted with the Westcott family and I enjoyed the role of the inestimable Miss Tibbles, governess extraordinaire. (That Miss Tibbles is to get her own romance is great news.) I think most authors will admit that it is not easy to sustain a series of related books. All in all, Kihlstrom did a fine job, and she certainly ended the Westcott saga on a high note.

--Jean Mason


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