Three for Brighton
by Martha Kirkland
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-5852-7
****
Three For Brighton brings an interesting set of words to mind. Sweet. Charming. Lighthearted. Fun. Ah, well, I guess that's what the best of the Regency genre offers, isn't it?

Three For Brighton is the story of three young ladies - two sisters and a cousin - who head for the seaside resort with one thing on their minds: marriage. They are desperate. Constance Mitchell and her younger sister, Felicity, have been left nearly destitute following the death of their dissolute father. Regina Farrington, their cousin and dear friend, has been left five hundred pounds by her late employer. It's not much of a dowry. But perhaps, if they are lucky, pretty Constance will snare a rich husband and be able to keep them all from the poorhouse.

Constance willingly agrees to do her very best, wistfully abandoning her dreams of marrying for love. Sharp-witted Regina will masquerade as a widow in order to lend their party an air of genteel respectability. While in Brighton, she also hopes to pursue a lead on the whereabouts of her long-lost father. Lively Felicity will mask her interest in astronomy and pretend to be three years younger than she is.

Nothing turns out as planned, of course. Barely do they arrive when Constance attracts the eye of Wesley Seaforth, a dashing, but penniless, lieutenant; Felicity finds herself drawn to a shy young scholar named Oliver Drayson who believes she's merely a child; and the handsome and wealthy Lord Joel Harcourt becomes intrigued by Regina. As Regina tries to interest Joel in Constance, Joel falls for Regina, Wesley competes for Constance, and Oliver attempts to escape his domineering mother long enough to find out who Felicity really is.

Got that? Well, don't worry if it seems tangled. Sorting it all out is great fun.

Regina and Joel carry the show here, though Felicity, with her high spirits and natural intelligence, isn't far behind. Regina's intelligence and practicality are more than a match for the slightly world-weary Joel. Complicating matters is Joel's mistaken belief that Regina isn't a widow at all, that she's still married and attempting to find her husband. Constance is less detailed; other than being pretty, there's not much to her.

It would have been easy for the mistakes and false assumptions to overshadow the rest of the story, but Kirkland wisely keeps the pace moving briskly. The plot never drags. The ending wraps up neatly but feels just right. Three For Brighton could well define the term "Regency romp". Fluffy, light, sweet, it's romance confection at its best.

May I have a second helping, please?

--Cathy Sova


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