Wedding Belles by Allison Lane, Edith Layton, Lynn Kerstan, Barbara Metzger & Carla Kelly
(Signet Regency, $6.99, G) ISBN 0-451-21189-8
This anthology features Regency-era stories by five of the publisher’s A-list authors. No big surprise, some of the stories are better than others.

In Allison Lane’s “For Richer or Poorer” Richard Hughes comes to the rescue of Georgiana Whittaker, an heiress, who is fleeing her abusive guardian and a forced marriage to a repulsive lord. Her situation allows Richard to settle an old score.

This story is heavily dependent on an earlier book by the same author featuring many of the same characters and conflicts, and the backstory weighs it down. Since I had not read the first book, I felt at a loss from the beginning. Moreover, the plot relies heavily on coincidence. This is one of the weaker stories in the anthology.

Edith Layton’s contribution, “A Marriage of True Minds,” is the story of a misalliance opposed by the families of two people from different social classes – one a titled lord, the other the daughter of a merchant family. Terence Powell learns of his older brother’s attachment when the young woman’s brothers beat him up in hopes of discouraging the romance. In hopes of ending this highly inappropriate connection, he allies himself with Valerie Littleton, the young woman’s sister, who is equally against the match. Terence discovers that he is not immune to the charms of a woman outside his class.

Edith Layton is an accomplished author, and this is a pleasant enough story. What’s amusing is the unanimity of opinion – the concept of “marrying up” is not perceived as a desirable outcome – regardless of social class.

I could not, however, help thinking that Ms. Layton wrote the wrong story. The romance between the bookish, retiring Lord Powell and his love, a sweet young thing, who are bold enough to defy accepted attitudes, held more appeal for me than that of their more forthright siblings.

“The Marriage Scheme” by Lynn Kerstan is the story of Julia Flyte, a young woman who is facing an unpleasant future unless she marries one of the sons of her guardian, a duke. The duke wants her to marry his third and youngest son who wants to join the army. He believes that marriage will settle the young man down. His duchess is pressuring her to marry the oldest son whose severe asthma has forced him to live mostly apart from family and society. The middle son Nicholas believes her to be a schemer until he comes to understand her situation and sees how she handles both brothers.

Marrying for money and position gets tweaked in this enjoyable story. There is one aspect that may be uncomfortable for some readers – the disparity in the ages of the hero and heroine. Julia is only seventeen, Nicholas a decade older.

“A Match Made in Heaven–Or Hell” by Barbara Metzger has a frame of St. Peter and Old Nick quarreling over the soul of the degenerate, Hugh, Marquess of Hardesty. Critically injured in battle in Portugal, he is nursed back to health by Marian Fortenham. Can the love of a good woman save his soul?

To his credit, Hugh is not one of those secretly good-at-heart rakes who really isn’t so bad. This guy is a major sinner. He learns to appreciate Marian, but who knows how long his reformation will last once he’s back in England with ample temptation available.

The heaven-hell frame is meant to add humor to the story, but it’s not very successful and serves to detract from the appealing interaction and romance between Hugh and Marian.

I bought this anthology for one reason and one reason only: because it has a story by Carla Kelly. Carla Kelly’s regular length Regency romances are among the best ever written, but her talent doesn’t end there. Her short stories are absolute gems. She is one author who is able to implant character development and emotional impact in both the shorter and longer format – not an easy thing to do. With all the anthologies Signet has published through the years, I have to wonder why they have never issued an anthology of her short stories exclusively.

“A Hasty Marriage” is the romance between an American sea captain, Hiram Titus, and an English lady, Ann Utley. The circumstances that allow them to meet are a bit of a stretch, but from there on it’s a charmer. Hiram is not one of those smooth operators with an appealing address – he’s a little awkward in social situations and has no idea how to court a lady properly. Ann, as she ought to, sees his good points from the beginning even if he is not from her class. There’s no annoying Big Misunderstanding keeping them apart.

For the many readers who adore Carla Kelly’s stories, this one will not disappoint. It comes last in the anthology, but in the ways that count it’s first.

Like many anthologies, this one contains stories of uneven quality. Several of the stories aren’t good enough to earn it an overall recommended rating, but that Carla Kelly story.... You might want to consider buying it for that alone.

--Lesley Dunlap

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