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Captain Jack's Woman

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The Promise in a Kiss

A Rake's Vow

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Secrets of a Perfect Night

On a Wild Night
by Stephanie Laurens
(Avon, $7.50, R) ISBN 0-380-81203-7
Today we’re having a pop quiz in Logic for Romance Heroines 101.

You’re a romance heroine and all the good men are either married or related to you. What do you do?

a. Ask one of those good men relatives if he’s got an available male friend you don’t know about.
b. Retire to a remote area and spend the remainder of your chaste life engaged in Good Works.
c. Marry the balding guy with a comfortable fortune and no guile who’s the bland sidekick of a rakish hero.
c. Con a friend into escorting you to a gambling hell in order to meet eligible, dangerous men.

If you answered either a., b. or c., you’re in the wrong course. Your romance will never make anyone’s TBR (to-be-read) list. If, however, you answered d., you are thinking like a romance heroine. (This is not necessarily a compliment.)

Amanda and Amelia, the Cynster twins, are lamenting that all there aren’t any eligible men around. No Mr. Nice Guy for them. They want someone exciting like the famous Cynster men. Since their male relatives led rakish lives before marrying and turning to a life of marital bliss. Amanda figures that must be where she’ll find Mr.- make that Lord - Right. (Silly me, I’d think she’d be more likely to find a compulsive gambler who’ll gamble away his enormous fortune then blow his brains out leaving their impressionable eight-year-old son to discover him in his darkened study thereby scarring the child’s fragile psyche forever and condemning him to tortured hero status for some other heroine to rescue as well as sentencing the family to a lifetime of mooching off relatives as the Poor Relations. But -hey!- what do I know? I’d probably have answered a., b., or c.)

Amanda convinces a childhood friend to take her to the newest gambling hell. There she encounters the dissipated Lord Connor who challenges her to a game of cards. Her friend is not a sufficiently competent card player to partner her. Then there’s a voice from the shadows; a striking stranger, identified only as Martin, emerges to offers himself as her partner.

Martin’s skillful play and an unexpected error by Connor produce a win. Amanda discovers her champion is actually the enigmatic Martin Fulbridge, Earl of Dexter. Martin intends to retreat to the shadows, but Amanda is not about to allow it. She’s found the man she wants. She begins to frequent places that are a bit too risqué for her and where she’s too innocent to be familiar with the complicated protocol. Martin sees himself as her protector and agrees to introduce her to some of the adventures the spirited Amanda seeks.

Martin’s not unaware that she’s setting her sights on him, but he’s too gripped by his attraction to put an early end to their relationship. He knows that his notorious past makes him unsuitable for permanent ties and calls it quit, but Amanda will not let him go. She is determined to restore him to respectability within the ton. To do this they will solve a ten-year-old mystery.

This is a plot synopsis of the first third of the book, and it’s not as sketchy as it may seem. The majority of the action is Amanda going here and Amanda going there as she sets out to bag her man. What it doesn’t mention is that Amanda and Martin get to the heavy kissing stage really quick and really often. This isn’t the standard kind of lips-on-lips kissing that’s common in romances. This is pages-and-pages kissing where the participants communicate vast amounts of information - innocence, reluctance, desperation, withdrawal, desire, you name it. (I must not be doing it right because I never knew you could tell so much from a kiss.)

The traditional formula for a successful romance is two nice people falling in love with a happily ever after guarantee. I’m not certain that this heroine genuinely qualifies as nice people. The sweet, charming Cynster twins of earlier novels reveal their manipulative natures in this one. I don’t have a problem with a heroine with objectives and convictions, but there’s something uncomfortably calculating and predatory about Amanda. At twenty-three years, she knows what she wants, and she’s carefully setting her lures to get it. She wants a dangerous man who lives in the shadows, not a nice guy. Then after she gets him where she wants him - again and again - she won’t marry him until she gets a declaration of love. Of course, she doesn’t explain why she’s refusing. Frankly, this babe really got on my nerves, and I started to hope Martin, who is pretty nice, would wise up and look elsewhere.

While On a Wild Night was light on plot considering its 400-page length, as most Laurens’ books are, it’s heavy on sex scenes and fully deserves its R rating. Given the rigid social strictures on unmarried misses of the period, a guy might be forgiven for getting the wrong impression. Frankly, Amanda’s just plain easy.

On a Wild Night never really captured my interest, and I read several other books between starting and finishing it. Ms. Laurens’ next novel will feature Amelia as heroine. I’m hoping that she chooses letter b. and lives a chaste life doing Good Works because the Cynster family is in a rut and could use a new approach.

--Lesley Dunlap

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