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Because of You by Cathy Maxwell
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-79710-0
Learn from my mistake: don't start this book shortly before bedtime.

In a small village in northern England, Samantha Northrup is awakened in the middle of the night. A stranger demands that Samantha give him the keys to the Ayleborough family burial vault. Samantha's late father was the church vicar, and she is still residing in the vicarage. She refuses to let him in without permission from the duke of Ayleborough, but he grabs the keys and lets himself in.

Yale Carderock was deeply shaken when he learned that his father, the fourth duke, died the previous year. He is grieved to see the marble marker confirming it. Even more distressing is his discovery of the marker for Yale Aethelred Carderock, 1776-1799? it is now 1806. For years his family has believed him dead.

Samantha gives him details of the family black sheep, his disinheritance, his disappearance, and eventual demise. Yale is stunned to learn that Samantha as the vicar's daughter was the only one who attended his funeral. No one had attended his funeral? He had waited to return home to prove his worth to his father, but now it is too late.

He takes a room at the inn, giving the name of Marvin Browne. During the night he becomes ill with influenza. Samantha has been acting as the only thing close to a doctor for the village. The innkeeper insists that the sick man not stay under his room and has him moved to the vicarage.

Samantha nurses the gravely ill man and saves his life. She is talking with several village women who have come to call when he awakens. He comes into the kitchen dressed only in a bed sheet. The women are naturally horrified. Because he has been in Miss Northrup's presence without clothes, the villagers insist that Mr. Browne marry her. Both of them insist that there is no need, but the villagers are adamant and Marvin Browne is given no choice.

It's after their wedding and wedding night (when the floorboards shook) when his brother, the present duke, arrives that the truth of Yale's identity is revealed. An already difficult situation is about to become worse.

I started this book when I had less than half an hour before my bedtime. Bad idea. There is no "good stopping point." I was immediately engrossed. The blurb on the first page didn't prepare me for the true nature of this book. Not only are the characters appealing and the story original, but the tone of the writing strikes a rare balance between seriousness and humor.

Yale and Samantha are the type of characters that only the best romances do well the mismatched lovers who are perfect for each other. Yale's not your typical tall, dark, and tortured hero, and Samantha's not your usual self-effacing vicar's daughter. Yale is the reprobate son who desperately wants the acceptance and approval of the family that he'd deny he cared about with his last breath. Samantha is a lonely woman who desperately wants a loving family but knows it will never happen. Yale is surprised to discover that this aging spinster is in fact an eager and responsive bed partner. Samantha finds that she likes the name Marvin. Their mutual discovery is both tender and funny.

Other characters are also well-drawn. They're more than stock figures merely providing plot complications for the hero and heroine. They're also a source for much of the delightful humor in the story.

When Yale's brother shows up, I was expecting the plot to follow a predictable pattern lots of yelling, accusations, and separations. The scene that follows is fortunately much more inventive. That's the pattern of much of the novel it's not just another version of the same old thing. The basic plot might be familiar forced wedding between near-strangers but Ms. Maxwell has created a refreshingly new treatment. This is a charming story with delightful characters that will leave you smiling.

I recommend Because of You enthusiastically and strongly advise that you begin it (unlike me) when you have ample time for reading. You won't want to put it down

--Lesley Dunlap

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