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A Country Flirtation by Valerie King
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6046-7
****
When Constance Permberley hears the sound of crashing wood and panicked horses early one morning, she has no trouble determining what has happened. Another young fool has ignored the warning sign and taken the curve in front of Lady Brook manor much too fast. Is this the sixth or seventh curricle accident this year?

Thus begins Valerie King's charming new Regency romance.

When Constance arrives at the scene, she finds her four younger sisters already there, already in the thrall of the handsome young man who lies unconscious at their gate. Constance sends for the doctor, orders the victim to be taken into the house, and prepares to worry about how her sisters will react to the presence of such an attractive fellow. When he wakes up and it becomes apparent that he has no memory of who he is, the plot thickens.

Constance is the oldest of the lovely Pemberley ladies at 29. Although a Long Meg, she is lovely enough to have garnered no fewer than eight marriage proposals. But she turned down all of her suitors, partly because she didn't love any of them and partly because she is responsible for her family and estate. Since her father's death eleven years earlier, she has been the owner of the manor and has been struggling to overcome the load of debt her father left her. She also has had the care of her young sisters and her mother who suffered a stroke seven years earlier and needs constant care. She is perfectly happy in her single state, although she does wish for a friend with whom she could talk.

Hugo, Viscount Ramsdell does not wish to go searching for his young cousin Charles. At 27, Charles, the only child of a doting and over-protective mother, has yet to grow up. Now, he has gone off somewhere and Ramsdell's servants insist that he will get into trouble. The viscount finally chases down his whereabouts and discovers that he is being nursed by five spinster ladies. Concerned that Charles will become a victim of still another fortune hunter, Ramsdell rushes to the rescue. The troublesome curve should be no problem for a whip of his reputation, and all would have been well had not a deer bolted in front of his horses. The result a compound fracture of the arm, a raging fever, and a close brush with death. When Ramsdell finally comes to, he finds himself being nursed by the lovely woman who has flitted through his fevered dreams. For the first time since his salad days, he finds his heart touched.

Constance likewise is much taken with the Viscount. He is tall, he is handsome, he is witty and they have much the same interests. What then provides the conflict necessary to sustain a story?

The difference in their stations is the crux of the problem. Ramsdell's father had told him again and again that he owed it to his lineage to marry a woman of noble birth and suitable fortune. Constance does not fit this mold. Unlike many other novels, King probably provides a much truer picture of how a nobleman would feel about what is a mesalliance. Ramsdell has to overcome the training of a lifetime to accept that Constance is the wife for him and that love matters more than status or wealth.

In addition to the central romance, King provides a secondary romance between the handsome amnesiac and the least likely of the Pemberley ladies. Indeed, by the time the book ends, four of the five Pemberley ladies are well on their way to finding their happily ever afters.

I am convinced that Regency fans who like their stories light and their humor gentle will enjoy A Country Flirtation I know I did.

--Jean Mason


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