Donovan's Bed

The Lawman's Surrender

Once a Mistress

 
A Necessary Husband by Debra Mullins
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-81908-2
**
My initial reaction to being assigned A Necessary Husband was pleasure. I had thoroughly enjoyed an earlier book by Debra Mullins, Donovan’s Bed, which stood out from the abundance of cookie-cutter western romances with its humorous writing and amusing characters. It came as a real disappointment to discover that in her most recent effort the author has abandoned originality and her light touch by choosing her plot and characters from the Closet of Overused Romance Cliches. There are a few clever lines in scenes of dialogue, but they’re too few and too far between.

The retread characters are:

Garrett Lynch a/k/a Marquess of Kelton. Call him the Savage Hero. Garrett is an American sea captain. (You can tell he’s an American because he’s got poor manners and dresses in a casual fashion since only sissy Englishmen would wear a well-tailored jacket even though an American gentleman in his position in the early nineteenth century would never consider shirt and pants alone adequate attire.) His father abandoned his life of rank and privilege in England and emigrated to America when his autocratic father, the Duke of Raynewood, refused to countenance his love match to an Irishwoman. Garrett, in full Boorish Bull Mode, has come to England to retrieve his younger sister Meg from the clutches of their grandfather after said grandfather has brought her to England to introduce her to society. What Garrett doesn’t know is that Grandpapa has similar plans for Garrett to marry and take up his rightful place as heir to the dukedom.

Lucinda Devering. Call her the Vulnerable Beauty. A youthful indiscretion led to her being forced to marry the younger brother of the man she believed she loved. The marriage was a disaster, and on her husband’s death (in his mistress’s bed while playing bondage games ... the Scandal!) she was left with a mountain of his unpaid debts. Malcolm, her husband’s older brother, has always regretted they were interrupted before he finished the deed. He has offered to pay the debts if she becomes his mistress. The cad! She gratefully accepted the Duke of Raynewood’s offer of room and board and a few pretty gowns for her expertise in turning Meg into a Perfect English Miss.

Now the duke has foisted a similar responsibility on her to turn Garrett into a well-behaved lordling so that he will be an acceptable groom for Lady Penelope Albright. But Garrett’s got designs on Lucinda’s virtue, and she apparently finds Garrett’s barely disguised sexual innuendos and lying in wait to trap her in corners most tempting. She must be strong! She must resist! The only way to regain her position is by getting a husband and for that she needs her spotless reputation intact.

The Duke of Raynewood. Call him the Wily Old Devil. There is nothing but nothing that is more important than Getting His Own Way, and he doesn’t care who gets hurt in the process. It’s completely irrelevant that others may have other preferences. Marry for love? Ha! Opt for an independent life? Never! He’s the duke so there.

Lady Agatha. Call her the Ditzy Old Dame. She’s the duke’s widowed sister who lives with them as chaperone; she dozes off at pivotal moments. Apparently along with age comes a license to make inappropriate remarks. She thinks Garrett’s one fine piece of male flesh and Lucinda ought to enjoy what he’s got to offer.

Lady Margaret Stanton-Lynch a/k/a Meg. Call her the Necessary Purpose. There’s got to be some reason that Garrett comes to England to rant and stomp and behave in a most uncivilized manner then hang around even though he insists he’s leaving immediately: Meg’s it. She has no discernable personality unless grabbing the chance to do some social class vaulting is better than staying in Boston all alone counts. She does, however, “dance like an angel and has the face of one” and is the granddaughter of the Duke of Raynewood so she doesn’t need a personality. She giggles a lot.

Malcolm Devering a/k/a Viscount Arndale. Call him the Wicked Villain. He’s evil through and through and has no redeeming social value whatsoever. He’s determined to have the Lovely Lucinda’s body by any means, and nothing is going to stand in his way. Lucinda will be his! Why, you ask? Because there’s got to be some reason that Lucinda is forced to remain under the Duke of Raynewood’s roof even though she longs to escape the temptation of Garrett’s irresistible male magnetism. And isn’t it romantic that the Poor Helpless Widow needs Our Hero to rescue her?

Only those who are brand new to the romance genre will be unable to predict how this all turns out. For those of us who have had ample experience with this stock plot and these stereotypical characters, A Necessary Husband offers nothing new.

Call it Same Old Same Old.

--Lesley Dunlap


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