Adam's Promise

Love According to Lily

Portrait of a Lover

Prairie Bride

Surrender to a Scoundrel

To Marry the Duke

In My Wildest Fantasies
by Julianne MacLean
(Avon, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-06-081949-1
Once upon a time, a young lady was traveling with her father through the dark, wet and foggy English night. Suddenly their coach stopped. Was it because of a discontented beggar? Or perhaps a highwayman had chosen them as his ill-fated victim? Neither. If they hadn't been too frightened to open their coach and look, they would have realized that their drunken driver had fallen off. Fortunately for them, a handsome young gentleman was riding through the area. He relayed the news, and when the terrified horses took off with the carriage in tow, he rescued the young lady. Not surprisingly, Devon Sinclair became the hero of seventeen-year-old Rebecca Newland's dreams.

Four years later, it is Rebecca Newland – and not her horses – who is running away. Her father wants her to marry the shady Maxmilian Rushton, and she won't have it. She has heard that Devon Sinclair's family is hosting a party at their sumptuous estate, Pembroke Palace. She decides to attend. He saved her once. Surely he can save her again.

Devon has his own family problems. Several years ago, his rash behavior resulted in a tragic incident. He has recently returned from America to the family estate and has learned that his father is losing his mind. One of the symptoms: a belief that only the marriage of his four sons will save the family from an unnamed curse.

Devon is neither mad nor superstitious, but he decides to comply with his father's wishes. He thereby hopes to redeem himself by sparing his younger brothers an unwanted fate. The fact that he is attracted to Rebecca helps confirm his decision.

Devon and Rebecca's relationship starts off well, but secrets will come out. Soon, Devon suspects Rebecca of being less than honest about her past. She feels that he is pushing her away. Things are brought to a head when the evil Rushton turns up to claim his due. Rebecca is forced to face some unsavory facts about her father, and Devon must learn not to let his past stand in the way of his future.

A rather clever device ensures that Rebecca is more knowledgeable than most virgin heroines of her time: she has been reading the graphic diary of a woman in love. The couple seek inspiration in its pages, and although the extracts sound very tongue-in-cheek, the resulting encounters are inventive and captivating.

Unfortunately, MacLean doesn't maintain this high tone throughout. Devon and Rebecca inhabit a world of clichés. Everything from the conniving other woman to the slimy villain, from the gaping family rift to the contrived final face-off has been done before. None of it is handled particularly ingeniously. It is all so overdone that every twist and turn – from the runaway carriage at the beginning to the romantic conciliation at the end – is foreseeable. Although I cannot fault MacLean for her writing, I do wish she would take more risks with her characters and plot. She has done so in previous books, and the results were more exciting than this formulaic production.

Devon and his family will be back to deal with their father's dementia and ultimatums. Here's hoping the future books will take us to places we have not yet seen.

  ----Mary Benn

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