A Scarlet Bride by Sylvia McDaniel
(Zebra, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-6478-0
**
A Scarlet Bride opens with an interesting premise. Connor Manning, notorious ladies' man, spies a gorgeous woman across a ballroom floor and nearly swallows his tongue with instant lust. (Note to Kensington: if you describe the heroine as a "tall brunette" on page one, don't put a blonde on the cover.) Connor is determined to meet her, even after he finds out that her reputation is nearly as suspect as his own. She's Alexandra Halsted Thurston, daughter of a prominent New York Banker, and she's divorced.

The interesting premise dissolved on page 3, when Connor quickly decides he must have Alexandra. His reasons:

Divorced. Beautiful. Sounds like a combination fitting to my tastes. Similar to ruined, lonely, and available.

Wow, what a guy. Alexandra, for her part, has no interest in Connor -- or any man. She rebuffs him after their initial attraction, fearing she'll make another huge mistake. She already has plans for revenge against her proper ex-husband: a tell-all book written under a pen name, in which she'll present the ugly details of their marriage covered by a thin veil of fictitiousness. The last thing she needs is to fall for another handsome man, even if he makes her weak in the knees.

Connor, needing a large infusion of cash to save his family farm, accepts an offer from Alexandra's father, who wants an heir. He'll marry Alexandra, and if he gets her pregnant within one year, dear old Dad will cough up fifty thousand dollars.

That was all I really wanted to read of this book, because from that point on (page 57) I had a feeling I knew exactly every move this book was going to take. There would be several Huge Misunderstandings. Nobody would be honest with anyone else. Alexandra would be spineless instead of telling her cold, conniving father to go to hell. When she did find a backbone, she's put it to use by running away several times instead of standing up to everyone and demanding better treatment. Oh, you get the picture. And it's all there, every bit of it.

The only reason this book gets two hearts instead of one is that the prose is decent and avoids the dreaded purple overlays of heaving bosoms and throbbing manhoods, and the ending did show some flashes of spirit. Without giving it away, let's just say that Connor, whose behavior has been borderline reprehensible for much of the book, has revenge exacted upon him by the woman he's come to genuinely love. It's well-done and satisfying for the reader after putting up with his self-serving attitude for so long.

But it doesn't quite make up for the 300 or so pages of oh-so-standard fare one has to wade through to get there. Readers fairly new to the romance genre may find A Scarlet Bride a fun read, but my guess is that veteran readers will be overwhelmed by déjà vu.

--Cathy Sova


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