A Princess Born by Sandra Madden
(Zebra, $5.99, G) ISBN 0-821-77250-3
***
The title of this book, A Princess Born, tells you the secret within the story before you start, and since there are limited characters to guess from, the little suspense there might have been is eliminated. Add to that a predictable, yet engaging heroine and a somewhat wimpy hero and you have a barely acceptable tale.

Kate Beadle and Edmund Wydville have been friends since childhood. Edmund, the second son of the Lord of Stamford and Kate, the gardenerís daughter were allowed to play, fish and cause mischief together until Edmund was sent off to school. In the intervening ten years, Edmund inherited the title after the death of both his father and his brother. Kate grew into a beautiful young woman, who cared for her father and now is providing companionship to Edmundís aunt, Lady Cordelia.

Edmund had been a lonely child and loved Kateís boisterous, fun-loving demeanor. Kate, a foundling left on her adopted parentís doorstep, has only a signet ring with the shape of a crown partially hidden behind a rose as a keepsake from her real mother. It is her intent to search all the goldsmiths in England to find one who can help her find her mother.

However, the majority of the story revolves around Kate loving Edmund, and although attracted to her, Edmundís refusal to acknowledge his love. He wants her for his mistress, but knows she will not accept that from him. Yet he vows to keep Kate from a life of servitude as a companion or nursemaid. So he sets out to find her a husband from the gentry. Edmund intends to keep her close to his estate, gift the couple with a cottage and still be able to see Kate, with possible trysts involved.

How ignoble can a man be? And heís offended that Kate resents his attempts to find her a husband. How dumb can a plan be? And Kate keeps forgiving him because she loves him. I never fully grasped what Kate saw in him, except her memories of their fun as children and now his lovemaking. I guess love is blind.

I generally enjoyed Kate. She is smart, she knows her own mind, and she is not intimidated at all by Edmundís new status as the Earl. If Kate disagrees with him, she tells him. If she thinks he is being high-handed, she lets him have it. And knowing she loves Edmund, Kate maintains her loyalty, even when she thinks he is being stubborn and dense.

The romantic interactions are written with little detail but much sensuousness. I was a little disappointed that the two fell into an affair, but realized that to Kate, this is her only chance to hold memories of Edmund due to the differences in their status. She never harbors any illusion that he would marry a mere gardenerís daughter.

There is one subplot involving Kateís feeling of being followed by the Queenís agent that is never really explained well and adds little to the story. The details of how Kate was born and left on the Beadleís doorstep is slightly intriguing; however by the time the author explained it, I had figured out everything but the why.

Edmund could have been much more as a hero. His insistence to keep to his plan even after Kate leaves him twice is infuriating. He is much too dense to be enjoyed, even though he has many acceptable characteristic of a good hero. I also had difficulty with his lack of work ethic. It seems as if he did nothing but play tennis, enter games of skill such as archery, and periodically attend parliament sessions. There is no indication he did anything of a serious nature, except avoid a lady who wants to marry him.

Overall, A Princess Born is a predictable and a somewhat enjoyable read. But if you want more from a book, pass this one by.

--Shirley Lyons


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