Cupboard Kisses

A Debt to Delia

The Diamond Key

Lord Heartless

Miss Lockhart's Letters

Miss Treadwell's Talent

Miss Westlake's Windfall

The Painted Lady

Saved by Scandal

A Worthy Wife

Wedded Bliss by Barbara Metzger
(Signet, $6.99, G) ISBN 0-451-20859-5
Robert Rothmore isnít one to bother much about other people. He is the Earl of Rockford and lives the life of the quintessential Regency aristocrat. Married twice by his mid- thirties and surviving both wives, he has no romantic illusions. The fact that each marriage produced a son doesnít help, since Robert isnít sure the boys are his. Thatís one of the reasons he avoids them.

Suddenly he is forced to reunite with his sons. Five-year-old William was living in the country with Robertís unconventional older sister, Eleanor, and several elderly servants, until Eleanor eloped with the estate manager. Hugo, twelve and sickly, has been living with his motherís family but is no longer welcome there.

Robert travels to his country estate, but finds that William is not there. Heís living in a neighboring cottage with a young widow, Alissa Henning, The daughter of a country gentleman, Alissa was married to the third son of a duke. Disowned by the duke, Alissa and her husband William managed fine until Williamís death two years ago. Now Alissa scrapes by, caring for her sister, her own sons, Kendall and William, and taking in Robertís son William, or Billy, upon Eleanorís request.

Itís not long after Robert meets Alissa and reunites with his sons that he sees the advantages of marrying her. He doesnít have the time or inclination to be with his boys, so he proposes to Alissa, as a sort of business arrangement. She can have his protection from certain unwanted suitors, and his financial support in return for taking care of his sons. Alissa recovers from her initial surprise and sensibly agrees. Robert goes back to London to take up where he left off, feeling matters are nicely settled.

When Alissa realizes her new husband isnít coming back, she puts aside her initial resentment and starts planning. The boys need their father, her sister Amy needs to be introduced into genteel society and they all need to escape the attentions of her distasteful neighbor, the smarmy Sir George. Alissa sees no reason why she and the Earl shouldnít attempt to have a proper marriage. She follows Robert to the city, bringing the whole family and assorted dogs with her.

Alissa is immediately likable with her steady, calm demeanor and practicality. Sheís wise enough to see beyond the moment, patient enough to let things take their course, and not afraid to tell it like it is. Sheís self-reliant and capable, and tender to those in her charge. Sheís optimistic enough to imagine that she and Robert could make a real marriage. She arrives and lets Robert know what her plans are for everyone, and he is flummoxed.

Robert is a real piece of work. Heís haughty, impatient and intractable, but because the author takes pains to share her charactersí thoughts, readers know that he is simply trying not to lose control of any part of his life. Heís afraid of being involved with anyone on an emotional level ó twice burned and all that ó but Alissa sets out to make Robert come around. She charms him, and itís fun to watch his stilted efforts to woo his wife and his growing affection for his boys.

Ms. Metzger has written numerous Regency romances, but Wedded Bliss is her first full length historical from that time period. She captures the atmosphere admirably, effortlessly taking the reader from country setting to the assemblies of London. The extended family characters were likeable. I enjoyed the secondary romance involving Robertís sister, Eleanor. I canít remember another book involving a middle-aged older sister who habitually disgraces her family. Her love story was a nice bonus. The use of the charactersí humorous asides had me smiling.

The author lays it on a bit thick with the villainous Sir George, who possesses every nasty mannerism abhorrent to women. Also, too many characters were named William, and it was confusing. When everyone arrived in London and the intermittent chaos ensued, it made me tired the same way a sitcom sometimes does. Thereís too much going on with the kids and the dogs and the villain and the frustrated husband.

Wedded Bliss still gets a high recommendation from me based on the characterizations, my love of this period and the spirit of good fun. Hereís a story that doesnít take itself too seriously, with strong females and a hero for whom there is hope. It worked for me and Iíll read more by this author.

--Deann Carpenter

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