The Intimate Arrangement
by Nancy Lawrence
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-821-76740-2
**
The Intimate Arrangement opens with a feud between two elderly brothers who both claim to own the same property, a country house named Seven Hills. One has sold the house to a war hero returned from the Peninsula; the other has given the house to a great-niece who is virtually penniless. The solicitor suggests that, until a decision is reached, neither party should occupy the house.

Too late. Marianna Madison is already on her way to Seven Hills with her small brother, Robin, and her old nurse, Blessing. They arrive to find the house dirty, dusty, and in a bit of disrepair. Bt it is theirs, and much larger than the small tenant cottage they had occupied after the death of Marianna's parents and the forced sale of their belongings to settle gambling debts. Marianna hasn't the slightest idea how she'll support the family, but finally decides that she'll offer lessons in French, Italian, and watercolors to the local girls.

Trouble soon arrives in the form of Ulrick Beauleigh, known as Rick, who is the other new "owner" of the house. Rick is returning from the war with an injured leg, and having spent some happy times at Seven Hills as a child, he only wants peace and quiet. Marianna insists he leave. Rick says he'll do no such thing he's shelled out money for the place, and it's his. The solicitor says he needs time to verify the validity of their claims. And neither of the uncles want anything to do with this.

There's a scheming cousin and various servants added to the mix, but basically this story revolves around Rick and Marianna finding themselves in forced proximity to each other. What might have been an entertaining story of two wary people getting to know one another is unfortunately stifled under an overabundance of tired plot points and a heroine who comes across as immature in the extreme.

First of all, the setup is well-worn. The penniless child who's lost everything due to her father's gambling debts is a Regency staple. The war hero with the injured leg? Another staple. These might have been brushed aside were it not for the character of Marianna, who must be one of the most tiresome heroines in recent memory. (Note to the art department: if the heroine is constantly describes as having curly black hair, don't put a straight-haired blonde on the cover.) She's only nineteen, and though we're told she's remarkably mature for taking on the care of her young brother and her elderly nurse, her actions mark her as anything but.

Marianna is the type of heroine who seems to feel faint when she can't think of anything intelligent to say. She has fits of temper. She does impulsive things, says impulsive things, throws herself into danger without a backward glance, and all through it, claims she can take care of herself. She jumps to conclusions, constantly believes the worst of Rick, and can't carry on a mature, reasonable conversation to save her life. I had no problem believing that a nineteen-year-old would act like this. What did irk me was the apparent belief that anyone would want to read about her. As a romance heroine, she's a flop. The scheming cousin had more life and sizzle.

As for Rick, he spends most of the book being a decent guy and trying to help, but since Marianna refuses to let him lay it on the line and discuss things like an adult, his hands are tied. Because he's so busy trying to deal with the situations created by her immaturity, the romance between only blossoms in the last few pages and doesn't feel the least bit realistic. There's no spark between them.

Pull this hero out of this book, plunk him down with a different (and hopefully more adult) heroine in a different situation, and you'd have a Regency worth spending your money on. As it is, though, I can't recommend The Intimate Arrangement.

--Cathy Sova


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