Cupboard Kisses

A Debt to Delia

Lord Heartless

Miss Lockhart's Letters

Miss Treadwell's Talent

Miss Westlake's Windfall

The Painted Lady

Saved by Scandal

A Worthy Wife

The Diamond Key by Barbara Metzger
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-20836-6
The Diamond Key is a charming, lighthearted Regency with a large dose of humor, just the ticket for an afternoon’s reading pleasure. Lady Victoria Ann Keyes, known as “The Keyes Diamond” for her beauty and the small key-shaped charm she wears around her neck, is in a dress shop having a new riding habit fitted when a fire breaks out. Stranded in the back of the shop, Torrie is pinned under bolts of cloth when she tries to climb out a rear window. As the smoke closes in, Torrie’s life flashes before her eyes. She vows that, if she survives this situation, she’ll stop being so finicky about her choice of beaux and marry the next decent man who asks her, thereby pleasing her beloved parents.

At that moment Wynn Ingram, Viscount Ingall (confusing name, that) is walking down the street with his dog when Homer dashes down an alley, barking madly. Wynn follows, sees smoke, and rescues Torrie. Before she passes out, she tells Wynn she wants to marry him. Wynn is sure she’s just suffering the effects of the smoke and escorts her home in the carriage of the ineffectual Lord Boyce, who declares himself to be Torrie’s intended, much to Torrie’s irritation. Boyce also wastes no time letting Torrie know that Wynn isn’t received in polite society.

Wynn has been out of England for six years, making a fortune in the shipping trade. A duel over a woman was cause for his banishment, both from his family and Society, but now he’s back in London for good. Society isn’t his biggest problem, however. He has one former mistress, now pregnant with another man’s child, who wants to marry him and give her child a name. He has another former mistress who wants to marry him to pay her bills. Now he has an Incomparable who wants to marry him because he saved her life. On top of all that, he can’t seem to keep a valet.

Torrie’s mother is aghast at the thought of her daughter marrying a man with Wynn’s reputation. Her father, on the other hand, thinks it’s a fine idea. Torrie admits her vow was a bit silly and retracts her offer of marriage, but would like to be friends with Wynn and help him re-enter Society. Wynn doesn’t care much about the Society part, but Torrie is lively and fun, and he can’t deny she’s beautiful. Thus the stage is set.

The lack of a valet is a running gag throughout the book, as Wynn must learn to tie his own cravats, something he can’t manage to do. When he names his latest lumpy creations The Bundler and The Beaver after his time spent in North America, they become a bit of a sensation and the dandies start copying them. Another thread of humor runs through Lord Boyce’s attempts to compromise Torrie so she’ll have to marry him and he can settle his vast debts. Boyce’s henchman is much smarter than Boyce himself.

Wynn is definitely the stronger character in this story. He occupies more page space than Torrie, who is smart and beautiful but not portrayed in much depth. Wynn’s tangled past and his desire to try and set things straight lead to complications with Torrie. (Former mistresses have a way of doing that.) Wynn would really much prefer to be just a man with a dog, but Torrie is irresistible. Their romance is lighthearted, with Wynn trying to find a husband and an entrance to Society for the two pesky women in his life while attempting to woo the one he really wants. He fumbles it a bit, too, which is an endearing quality in a hero.

Torrie is pampered, no doubt about it, but rather than spoiled, she comes off as clever and unselfish. There are a few miscommunications and false assumptions, but they aren’t allowed to dominate the story. However, Torrie doesn’t have much to do other than look pretty, set her cap for Wynn, and show some intelligence. There’s little for her to overcome except for keeping Lord Boyce at bay. The story really belongs to Wynn, and he carries it beautifully.

The Diamond Key is an excellent romance, one that’s sure to please lovers of the genre. This is Barbara Metzger at her Regency best.

--Cathy Sova

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