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Lord Heartless by Barbara Metzger
(Fawcett, $4.99, G) ISBN: 0-449-00171-7
****
I am very sad. I have just finished my very last new Fawcett Regency (I still have quite a few on my to-be-read pile). This is Barbara Metzger's eighteenth book with this publisher and she's going out with style. Lord Heartless exhibits her usual wry humor, excellent plotting, delightful characterization and real understanding of the Regency era.

Lord Heartless is Lesley Hammond, Viscount Hartleigh, a handsome and somewhat wild fellow who would have loved nothing more than to serve in the army but who was forbidden to do so because he is heir to a dukedom. Although the owner of a magnificent mansion Grosvenor Square, Lesley has chosen to reside in a rather ramshackle house in Kensington to avoid his unpleasant stepmother and her matchmaking schemes. He is viewed by his neighbors as a blight on their quiet, respectable street.

Early one morning, after a typical night of dissipation, Lesley is awoken by his unlikely manservant, Byrd. It seems that someone has left a package on his doorstep. Princess Frederika Haftkesprinke has sent him a most unusual souvenir of their liaison in Vienna a year earlier a three month old baby!

Byrd wants to turn the child over to the nearby foundling hospital, but Lesley can't bring himself to abandon his own child. However, neither does he have any idea how to care for an infant. And so he begs assistance from his neighbor's housekeeper, Mrs. Philip Kane. The widowed Mrs. Kane is a mother herself, and Lesley believes she might have some sympathy for his plight, despite her usual starched-up and disapproving attitude toward the viscount and his doings.

Carissa Kane's soldier husband abandoned her before her daughter was born four years earlier. Her father had rejected her because she had married against his will. And so this daughter of an earl had been forced to find a way to support herself and her daughter. She is most grateful that the elderly banker, Sir Gilliam Parkhurst, for giving her a post where she could keep her daughter with her.

When the viscount appears on Sir Gilliam's doorstep, problem in arms, Mrs. Kane cannot in conscience ignore the child's needs. And thus she sets about to bring order to Lesley's household and his life. Lesley at first sees the child as a way of enhancing his poor reputation and driving away married minded misses. But the more time he spends with Sue (for souvenir), the more attached he becomes to his daughter. And the more interested he becomes in Mrs. Kane.

Metzger enriches her love story with a strong cast of secondary characters and a plot that includes fraud, blackmail, kidnapping and even, perhaps, murder. But, as is not always the case, she handles these complications with a skilled hand so that all the action only adds to the developing romance.

Carissa discovers that "Lord Heartless" is anything but. Rather he is a man who rescues abused dogs, induces her shy daughter to laugh, defends the defenseless and dotes on his surprise daughter. Lesley discovers that beneath the staid housekeeper's persona, there is a warm, caring and capable woman who has bravely faced adversity that might have destroyed a lesser individual.

Lord Heartless is a first-rate Regency romance, but we have come to expect nothing less from Barbara Metzger. I only hope that she has found a new home so that we fans of the Regency can continue to enjoy her excellent books.

--Jean Mason


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