The Bliss by Jacqueline Navin
(Jove, $6.50, R) 0-515-13466-X
***
Leah Brodie is the middle daughter of the five daughters of a wealthy banker. Her mother hopes to find prominent husbands for all of her girls. Leah's first season ended with a small scandal. To get away from the gossip, she visits a favorite relative. Cousin Daphne likes to entertain Leah with exciting tales of young women kidnapped and ravished by rogues. All of the heroines of her stories find their "bliss" at the hands of the handsome rogue. Leah isn't too sure what the "bliss" really is, but it sounds exciting.

Morgan Gage, better known as the "Wicked Earl of Waring" is a man on a mission. Over a year ago, he had found his beloved father murdered in the family home. He spent three months in prison as a suspect. When he was finally released, he left the country for several months to try and get away from the pain. While he was gone, his young stepmother Glorianna marries his hated cousin Randall. When he returns to England he plans to get revenge for his father's death, his own imprisonment, and to rescue his stepmother from Randall.

Morgan discovers that while he was out of the country, Randall spread lots of rumors that make Morgan look guilty in the eyes of part of the ton. Glorianna is also not allowed out of Randall's sight except to ride the moors in Yorkshire. When some of Morgan's men capture the lady riding through the moors, Morgan thinks that he finally has a chance to talk with Glorianna without Randall. Much to his surprise, a cursing spitfire named Leah is the captured woman.

Despite her anger at being grabbed, Leah is attracted to Morgan and he to her. They agree not to mention her kidnapping. Leah does not expect to see Morgan again, but he approaches her at a ball a few weeks later. He suggests a business deal. He will appear to be her suitor for the next few weeks. His position as an earl will repair her slightly damaged reputation and her many invitations will get him into the ton gatherings he needs to attend to try and talk with Glorianna alone. Leah agrees even though she knows that she will probably want more than a business relationship.

Morgan's search for revenge is very understandable. He and his father were very close, especially after his mother and sister died years earlier. The four of them had been a very happy family and to lose his last remaining family member and to be accused of his murder was devastating. He also loves his young stepmother like a sister. Since he suspects his cousin's involvement in his father's death, he feels compelled to save her. His plan and his pain make it hard for him to understand that he is falling for Leah. A hero whose immediate family is a source of good memories is fairly unusual, and I particularly liked this aspect of Morgan's personality.

Leah took more time to like. She appears very immature at first. Her bursts of temper, wild cursing, and over-fanciful view of relationships set my teeth on edge. She does grow as she continues to help Morgan, realizing that he may never love her as she does him. Leah's family is also very likable. I thought at first that her mother was ignoring Leah's wishes about marrying, but later in the story, we see that both Leah and her mother like each other and admit to misunderstanding each other. One of her older sisters, Julie, and her brother-in-law, Raphael, help both Leah and Morgan. (Julie and Raphael's story was told in Meet Me at Midnight.) Oddly, cousin Daphne is never seen even though Leah stays with her twice and refers to her often.

Toward the end, some of the Leah's actions did not ring very true to the personality established earlier. When Morgan proposes marriage as part of their agreement, Leah is far too quiet and reticent about talking the situation out with him. It seemed more of a way to rush through the marriage and not deal with her usual way of handling things. How she manages to avoid her bodyguards was also never very believable.

On the whole, The Bliss, was an enjoyable, but average read.

--B. Kathy Leitle


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