Bachelor on the Prowl
Be My Baby Tonight
The Butler Did It
Can't Take My Eyes Off You
Come Near Me
The Dangerous Debutante
Everything's Coming Up Rosie
A Gentleman by any Other Name
Jessie's Expecting
The Kissing Game
Love to Love You Baby
A Most Unsuitable Groom
The Sheikh's Secret Son
Someone to Love
Stuck in Shangri-La
Then Comes Marriage
This Can't Be Love
This Must Be Love
Too Good to Be True
Waiting For You

A Reckless Beauty
by Kasey Michaels
(HQN, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-373-77216-2
is an episode in Kasey Michaels' Becket of Romney Marsh series. It has good points and bad points, making it an acceptable read.

Fanny Becket grew up believing that Rian is not only her adopted brother and protector, but also her one and only love. When he heads off to Bruxelles to fend off Napoleon's last stand, she follows him. Rian isn't exactly pleased to see her. He's been trying hard to make a name for himself in a family of over-achievers and has just been offered a chance to prove himself as Wellington's messenger. He doesn't object when Valentine Clement, the officer who arranged that position for him, insists that Fanny remain with his sister in Bruxelles.

So while Rian prepares for battle, Fanny prepares to enter the social scene. She quickly realizes that her allegiance to her best friend is not as strong as she thought. She finds herself more and more attracted to Valentine. He is just as charmed. But there is a war going on, and inevitably tragedy strikes.

Fanny and Valentine get married. They both (understandably) hold back information from the other, and they both (also understandably) regret they are lying to the other. Returning to her family and home, Romney Marsh, brings some comfort, but it also makes the Beckets realize that their old enemy, Edmund Beales, is still powerful and still powerfully after them.

I'll begin with what I liked the least: Valentine's almost-instant attraction to Fanny. A war-tired warrior infatuated with a silly schoolgirl? Sorry, Ms Michaels, I couldn't buy it. Nor did I have much sympathy for Fanny's thoughtless and headstrong ways (she is quite suitably labeled a reckless beauty). Yes, she is attached to Rian, and yes, she obviously doesn't give much thought to her actions. But would someone who is traumatized by violent deed she witnessed as a child be so quick to rush into battle? I'm not so sure. As for the villain, he never really appears in this book, but his dastardly ways were mentioned so frequently, that instead of thinking him terrifying, I found myself yawning.

On the other hand, I admire the way Michaels never sinks into heart-breaking tragedy. War is never a laughing matter, and Fanny and Valentine must both mourn and deal with their survivor's guilt. The novel doesn't skirt these issues, and the grieving has a very authentic touch. Yet, Michaels doesn't let her story stagnate around these tragedies and adroitly pushes her characters forward to happier moments.

A Reckless Beauty is my first venture in the long-running Becket series. I didn't have a hard time jumping in the middle, but I was annoyed with the frequent and shameless plugging of other books, both has been and to come. She doesn't stop with frequent references to characters and events from other books. She also tries to hold her readers' attention - and purse strings - by dragging the resolution of a major mystery from one book to another. The Return of the Prodigal which is out this month, will deal with questions left unanswered in A Reckless Beauty. I am interested to know the whys and the wherefores of the prodigal's return, but I'm still not sure I'll read the book. I don't think I can stand much more talk about the mustachio-twirling villain.  

--Mary Benn

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