The Husband Test

The Soft Touch

Sweet Talking Man

The Wife Test by Betina Krahn
(Berkley, $6.99, PG-13) 0-425-19092-7
Betina Krahn's newest offering has two enjoyable elements - humor and a hero who needs to learn that his opinion of womankind is very wrong and who does learn.  The story is set in the time of King Edward when court intrigue was everywhere and still manages to combine the intrigue with humor.

Sir Hugh of Sennet has been sent by Edward to escort a group of young women from the Convent of the Brides of Virtue in France to the court in England.  He resents the duty because he has no time for women.  The third son of the Earl of Sennet, Hugh was sent to the monks when he was only five.  He has learned from the monks that women are not to be trusted.  He only wants to get back to the monastery and join the contemplative life.  

The girls are supposedly adopted daughters of the Duke of Avalon.  He has been captured and is required to pay ransom to Edward.  He has lost everything else he owns and convinces the abbess to send the girls as brides for some of Edward's loyal men.  

Chloe of Guibray has lived at the convent since she was left on the convent's steps as a baby. While she has received the same education as the other girls, she has also been trained as a clerk to the abbess.  Most of the other girls are from impoverished French families so they should make good marriages, but since Chloe's parentage is unknown, she has little chance of that.  She is a competent, accomplished young woman who desires marriage and a family.  When she hears about the other girls going to England, she secretly listens in on the abbess and learns that she will not be sent.  She also hears that the note left with her did not say Guibray but the English name Gilbert so she devises a plan to go to England with the others to search for her family.

Chloe's plan works and she becomes the guardian of the girls.  She stands up to Hugh when he is very disagreeable.  Hugh finds himself attracted to her and hates it.  He, of course, tries to blame it on her, but she gives as good as she gets.  The interplay between the two is funny, touching, and infuriating.  When they arrive at Edward's court, she invents a "wife test" to give her time to try and pair the other women with appropriate husbands.  Edward sees the spark between Chloe and Hugh and requires him to help her with the test.  Hugh is now the only remaining son and his father has been petitioning the king to find Hugh a wife.  

Woven throughout the humorous test and the Chloe/Hugh encounters is a strong threat. Someone has been trying to hurt the women ever since they left the convent. The mystery of who is behind the threats is gradually revealed and leads to an exciting end.  Krahn's skill at fleshing out the secondary characters gives depth to the story and makes the culprit harder to find.

The Wife Test is fast-paced and very readable.  Chloe does take a few too many chances at first, but her good sense soon returns.   Hugh comes across as a disagreeable guy several times, but he learns from his mistakes and makes the proper amends.  The humor and intrigue is well balanced, keeping the tone from being too heavy or too frivolous. All in all, a very enjoyable read.

--B. Kathy Leitle

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