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My Lady Mischief by Valerie King
(Zebra, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-821-76207-9
My Lady Mischief starts out with Eleanor Marigate closeted in a tower, waiting for the arrival of her fiancé, the Earl of Bucksted. Theirs is no love match; in fact, Eleanor believes him to be a pompous fool. But he now owns the house she loves and has lived in all her life, and so she has agreed to marry him as a matter of convenience. Until now.

Eleanor races from the tower down to the road as soon as she spies Bucksted's carriage. Once there, she flags down the coach and announces that she wishes to call off the engagement. When the proper Bucksted, taken aback, asks why she should wish to do such a thing, Eleanor responds that theirs is not a love match, and she will think of some other means of providing for her family. She also informs him that he's boring, officious, and a pretty dull stick. Bucksted doesn't know what to think, but further conversation is halted by the arrival of Eleanor's preening mother.

Bucksted decides on a revenge of sorts. He coerces Eleanor into a week-long false engagement, all the while planning to ruin her socially when the time is up. Eleanor agrees, believing that this will please her mother and somewhat make up for her bad manners. As for providing for her family, Eleanor has that in hand. She's a smuggler.

But things go awry when Bucksted finds he really doesn't want to ditch Eleanor, and Eleanor finds that underneath Bucksted's starchy exterior, there's a very intriguing man, indeed.

This is essentially a "getting to know you book" in which both characters experience some growth. The challenge for me was that I thought both of them were so obnoxious at the outset that I didn't want to keep reading. Bucksted had the equivalent of a Regency broomstick up his … well, you get the idea, and Eleanor as a smuggler? Not in a million. This girl appeared to be too much of a twit to put her shoes on the right feet, let alone be part of a smuggling ring. The flowery writing didn't help. Having your heroine go "tripping lightly, but carefully down the spiraling staircase of the tower" leads more to images of a heroine falling flat on her face, for example.

The most fun was watching the repressed Bucksted unwind. He's really a lot of fun once he loses some of the starch. There's another woman pursuing him, and darned if I didn't want her to get him. Eleanor just never seemed to be much of a match, either emotionally or intellectually, for Bucksted's character. The smuggling subplot popped up at random and felt forced, and I never got the feeling that Eleanor was sufficiently intelligent or circumspect enough to pull it off.

An entertaining hero doesn't quite make up for a thin plot and an unimpressive heroine. My Lady Mischief didn't quite deliver the goods. For a better indication of Valerie King's talent, I recommend one of her other works.

--Cathy Sova

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