The Barbarian Earl

The Madcap Masquerade

The Misguided Matchmaker

A Touch of Magic

The Unlikely Angel

The Yorkshire Lady

Kissing Cousins by Nadine Miller
(Signet Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN: 0-451-20344-5
The hero of Kissing Cousins is a familiar character: the stick-in-the-mud who is brought to life by falling in love. The heroine is likewise well-known: the charming poor relation who has faced adversity with pluck and whose sunny unconventionality charms the hero. Add a mother (the heroís) who wants her son to be happy and a few children to break through the heroís cold facade, and any Regency reader knows where the story is going. Still, Miller makes the journey a pleasant one.

Cassandra Markhamís eccentric father had brought his family to London when he sought to discover why his annual grant from the Society for the Promotion of Intellectual Acquisitions was canceled. Unfortunately the only lodging Mr. Markham could afford was in the low slum known as the Rookeries. Equally unfortunately, when his appeal was rejected, Mr. Markham had gotten ill and died. So Cassie finds herself without funds and with her three half-siblings to care for. Her father had told her that, if anything happened to him, she should appeal to his cousin, the Earl of Worthing. So Cassie uses the last of her coin to hire a hansom cab to take her little family to Cavendish Square.

Only the intervention of the Countess enables Cassie and the children to be admitted to the house. Only the Countessís intervention induces the new earl to take the family in. She informs her son that his canceling his support of the Society had undoubtedly led to the termination of Mr. Markhamís grant and thus, indirectly, to his death and his familyís sorry state. The earl, always a stickler about meeting his responsibilities, agrees to give the family refuge and to set his secretary about the task of finding Cassie a kindly husband who will take in the orphans.

Simon is a pattern card of respectability. His parents had separated when he was very young and he had been raised by his father who insisted that he suppress any emotion. He had imbibed from his father the ambition to excel in politics and, in pursuit of this goal, had recently become betrothed to Lady Honoraria, the daughter of the powerful Tory politician, the Duke of Ashford. Honoria shares his political ambition and his restrained temperament. He looks forward to a comfortable if passionless marriage. Then Cassie, with her beauty, her warmth, her charm, her intelligence, her bravery, etc. etc., and so forth, arrives on the scene and upsets his carefully planned life.

As noted above, this is a familiar tale. Miller adds some nice twists by having Simonís mother, servants and best friend all conspiring to shake the earl out of his self-imposed rut. Simon quickly - perhaps too quickly - discovers the emotional side of his nature. Yet he is promised to Lady Honoria and a gentleman does not go back on his word. How he finally frees himself from his betrothal is one of the cleverest things in the story.

Perhaps it is the very familiarity of the plot and characters that kept Kissing Cousins from fully engaging me. The fact that I was more intrigued by the secondary romance between Simonís rakish friend and a spinsterish bluestocking (obviously Millerís next book) more interesting suggests that Simonís and Cassieís love story isnít quite compelling enough.

Still, while I canít award Kissing Cousins four hearts, I found it a pleasant and completely acceptable Regency romance.

--Jean Mason

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