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Indiscreet by Kasey Michaels
(Warner, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-446-60582-4
*****
Welcome back, Kasey! That's what I felt as I read Kasey Michaels' new Regency historical. I had read her three books about colonial Pennsylvania, and while I appreciated her insights into the history of my home state, I didn't feel that they had quite the spark I had come to expect in her writing. Well, the spark is back. I thoroughly enjoyed Indiscreet and will certainly put it on my keeper shelf for rereading when I want a sweet, sexy, funny, poignant, entertaining and enjoyable book.

Rarely have I read a more tragically amusing prologue than the one that begins Indiscreet. The eighth Duke of Selbourne decides to enliven his stay at a very boring house party by smuggling his mistress into his room for a bit of fun. His mistress is the notorious Mrs. Constance Winstead, a long-time widow who has shared her delightful favors with many a fine gentleman. Constance is beautiful, winsome, amusing and absolutely faithful as long as the affairs last. That they have not lasted long in the past had less to do with her charms than with her paramours' other obligations. But she and the duke have been together for four wonderful years. True love has come late to the duke; he is in his fifties. But he has fallen hard – and tragically does fall hard.

You see, while he and Constance are gaily and nakedly cavorting on the balcony outside his room, his valet mistakenly throws open the doors and. . . well let it be said that no one who was in Lady Buxley's music room some 30 feet below that balcony ever forgot that particular house party!

Our story begins three years later when Bramwell Seaton, ninth Duke of Selbourne faces a dilemma. He has spent the past three years living down the scandal of his father's demise. Once a fun loving naval officer, he is now a paragon of virtue and upright behavior. He has even engaged himself to the highly respectable, Miss Isadora Waverly whose basic appeal is that no taint of scandal have ever touched her or her family. But now an obligation bequeathed to him by his father threatens to undo all his efforts.

It seems that his father had promised both orally and in writing to see that his beloved Constance's daughter enjoy a London season. This promise has become Bram's responsibility and Constance's daughter, her guardian Mrs. Farraday and her maid Desiree are about to arrive at his London townhouse. He can only hope that Miss Sophia Winstead is short, fat and ugly.

But of course, some wishes are meant not to be granted, especially in a romance novel. Sophie turns out to be the image of her glorious mother, with all of her parent's devastating allure. Bram is stunned, dismayed and attracted all at the same time. And when Sophie introduces a monkey, a parrot and a stunningly frank manner into Bram's quiet, respectable life, well, we romance readers know what the end result will be. But oh the fun in getting there.

Sophie, although the image of her mother, is determined not to make her mother's mistakes. She has decided that love is a sham, a fraud perpetrated on women by men who want just one thing. She will marry respectably, love her children, enjoy her lovers, but she will not love.

Bram finds Sophie in turn appealing and appalling. When she warns him right from the start not to fall in love with her, even though she is irresistible, he is left speechless. When she proceeds to win over his maiden aunt, his respectable fiancée, his best friends, and most of the male population of London, he is bemused. But he is also attracted by her warmth, her spirit, her intelligence and her joie de vivre. When she suffers on discovering the true circumstances of her mother's death, he comforts her and admires her courage and her determination. And, of course, he falls in love with her.

I suppose one reason I enjoyed Indiscreet so much was because of the well drawn and entertaining characters. I liked Sophie, despite her near perfection. She had enough flaws and doubts and fears and uncertainties so that I could sympathize with and understand her actions. I liked Bram a whole lot. Like his friends, I was delighted to see the real Bram emerge from the protective shell he had created around himself. And when Sophie and Bram get together, the sparks fly.

The supporting cast was equally well developed and likable: dotty, kleptomaniac Aunt Gwendolyn, Bram's friends, the "uncles" who once doted on Sophie and now are more than a little concerned about her entrance into society, and even the strait-laced Isadora.

This is a light book with real substance. Although the tone is uniformly humorous (I thought for a moment at the end that Kasey was going to descend into melodrama, but instead, she offered another delightful, funny twist), these are not the cardboard characters that we sometimes find in historicals that are aiming for a comical effect. Instead, they are real people who this reader at least came to care about.

I had wondered if Michaels was planning to make one or the other of Bram's friends the hero of her next book, but the excerpt at the back of the book suggests not. Pity. I would have loved to see Sophie in operation as a duchess.

And so, because I had such fun reading Indiscreet, because I liked the characters and the story, because I want to spend more time with Sophie and Bram, this book goes on my keeper shelf. All other authors who are attempting to write humorous Regency historicals should read Indiscreet to see how it ought to be done.

--Jean Mason


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