My Lady Disdain by Paula Marshall
(Harlequin, $4.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-51115-9
When I heard that Harlequin had decided to test the Regency waters by reprinting a number of Mills and Boon Regencies, I was delighted and hopeful. Since Regencies are my comfort reads, the books that I pick up when I want a speedy and enjoyable journey to another time and place, I have been distressed by their gradual disappearance. Where once there were seven houses publishing Regencies, now there are but two. So when I saw Harlequin’s first set of four Regencies (there will be others in March, July and November 2001), I grabbed all four and sat down for a Regency reading orgy. I was not disappointed. All of the stories were enjoyable. Indeed, while I had some problems with the writing in My Lady Disdain, I still found the book quite acceptable.

Anastasia Blanchard is a most unusual Regency lady. The only child of her banker father, she was raised as his heir and successor. For two years, since his death, Stacy has been successfully overseeing the operations of Blanchard’s Bank and is known far and wide as the “Bankeress.” Now twenty-seven, she has pretty much given up on the idea of marriage. Oh, she’s had plenty of offers, but she knows full well that her suitors are more interested in her fortune than in her person. And she also knows that they are unlikely to consent to their wife’s continuing in her profession.

When a problem arises in the York branch, Stacy decides to handle it herself and sets out northward with her entourage. However, she does travel under an assumed name; it would not do to let it be known that the rich Miss Blanchard is on the road. A freak November snowstorm leads to disaster and Stacy and her party are forced to seek shelter in Pontisford Hall.

Matt Falconer has likewise just arrived at Pontisford, a property bequeathed to him by his aunt. He has discovered that the house has gone to wrack and ruin in his aunt’s declining years. Thus, when a proud and demanding young woman arrives at the door with a sick companion, a maid, a footman, a driver and a postillion, he is none too pleased. “Miss Anna Berriman” begins by mistaking Matt for a very uncouth butler. Imagine her surprise when the real butler addresses him as m’lord.

Matt is indeed a lord, and not especially happy about it. He is Viscount Radley, heir to Earl Falconer since the death of his elder brother. But Matt has been estranged from his family since a scandal eleven years earlier. He had left England for his property in Virginia and plans to return there as soon as possible.

Matt and Stacy have one of those attraction/repulsion relationships. These two strong-minded characters spar continually, each going out of his way to infuriate the other. Hot tempers and hot blood lead to hot sex, much to each’s amazement. The rest of the story details the consequences of this passionate interlude.

The plot contains many familiar elements: an unwelcome pregnancy, a forced marriage, a reconciliation between father and son, and the revelation of what really happened eleven years earlier. The conflict arises out of the fact that neither party to the marriage really knows what the other feels and, given the circumstances, the misunderstandings seem quite plausible.

Stacy is an unusual woman for her time, but Marshall provides an explanation for her position and also shows just how uncomfortable society is with her. Matt likewise has had an unusual life, so the two are well matched. One can believe in their happily ever after.

As indicated above, I found the writing a bit problematic. Marshall’s style is much more flowery than is common in Regencies written by American authors. She also does a bit more telling rather than showing than is generally the case. Finally, I am not sure that American readers will be completely happy with Stacy’s actions at the end of the book.

Still, when all is said and done, My Lady Disdain has a nice take on one of my favorite plots - the forced marriage - and has good characters. A most acceptable Regency romance.

--Jean Mason

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