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The Misguided Matchmaker

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The Madcap Masquerade
by Nadine Miller
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN: 0-451-19512-4
****
When Maeve Barrington's mother dies, she leaves nothing but debts. Although she had been one of the leading lights of London's demimonde, Lily St. Germaine had not planned for the future. Maeve finds herself short of funds and besieged by creditors. She does have a way of supporting herself she is establishing a reputation as a political cartoonist. But her situation is perilous.

Thus, she is sorely tempted when her long lost father appears and asks her to masquerade as the twin sister she never knew she had. It seems when her mother and father decided to go their separate ways, they each took one of the identical twin sisters. After meeting her father, Maeve concludes that she was the lucky twin.

Squire Barrington needs Maeve's help because timid Meg has fled to an aunt in Scotland after agreeing to marry the Earl of Lynley. The squire has his own reasons for promoting the match. The earl's motives are straightforward. He needs the Barrington money to repair his family's fortunes after his father's wasteful ways. Barrington fears that if Meg (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) does not appear at the scheduled betrothal ball, the match will fall through.

Maeve drives a hard bargain with her uncouth and uncaring father and travels down to Kent to begin her impersonation. She does not feel particularly guilty about deceiving the earl; after all, he is nothing but a rake and a fortune hunter. But she does wonder about her sister's motives and wishes. Does she want to end the betrothal? Is Maeve doing her a disservice by agreeing to the masquerade?

For his part, Theodore Hampton, Earl of Lynley views the match with resignation and no enthusiasm. Meg Barrington seems to him a poor dab of a girl, lacking in beauty, charm or countenance. But he needs that dowry to restore his beloved estate.

The Meg who arrives at the betrothal ball is a very different woman from the one Theo met before. She is composed, outspoken, intelligent and above all, interesting. Suddenly this marriage does not seem so painful to Theo. His mother, on the other hand, finds the new assertive Meg a threat to her position as mistress of Ravenswood.

Maeve discovers that the earl is not the heartless rake he has been portrayed. Rather, he is an attractive man who worms his way into her heart. But how can she admit her feelings? How will his newfound fondness survive his discovery of her treachery?

The Madcap Masquerade is a well written and enjoyable Regency romance. The characters are fresh and believable. The relationship between Theo and Maeve is well drawn. The secondary characters and the secondary plots (including old secrets uncovered) are well done, although the squire is so uncouth as to be almost unbelievable.

Miller has in her past books taken the traditional Regency stories and tweaked them just enough to make them a bit unusual and a lot entertaining. She does the same with The Madcap Masquerade. A thoroughly satisfactory Regency romance.

--Jean Mason


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