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The Wedding Night
by Linda Needham
(Avon, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-380-79635-X
****
Do you like believable "woman ahead of her times" heroines? Do you like unusual noble heroes with unusual pasts? Do you like an engrossing plot which turns on the discovery of Celtic silver? Do you like love scenes that are both sensuous and tender? Then you will like The Wedding Night by Linda Needham.

Mairey Faelyn is a folklorist, following in the footsteps of her deceased father and his father before him. In 1858, such a career for a woman is unusual but not completely unheard of. Her family has long been on a quest to find an ancient piece of Celtic silver, the Willowmoon Knot. Legend has it that the pattern on this small piece of silver is a map to a rich lode of silver, untouched since ancient times. Mairey has been entrusted with the family quest, not to exploit it, but rather to protect the land where the silver lies.

Then, Jackson, Viscount Rushford tracks Mairey down. Rushford is a mining baron who has learned of the legend of the Willowmoon Knot. He wants to find it so that it can lead him to the silver and he wants Mairey's help. She indignantly refuses, but Rushford has money, power and connections. He forces her to cooperate with his plans. She can only hope to delay and dissemble to prevent the viscount from gaining the prize.

Mairey starts out with a low opinion of Rushford, believing him to be a typical mine owner who will risk the lives of his workers in pursuit of profit. But she soon discovers that Jack is not a grasping and selfish owner, nor is he a member of the old aristocracy who has lived a life of privilege. Rather, he is the son of a coal miner who was killed in a violent clash with his employers' bullies. Jack had fled to America, where he had made his fortune (but not, I fear, in the Yukon in 1850, Ms. Needham.) He is a forward looking innovator, who has learned to combine safe working conditions with high profits and who has created a metallurgical empire. His wealth gained him his title.

Forced into close association with the viscount, Mairey discovers him to be a worthy and lovable man. When she brings her young sisters to live at his estate, she sees another side of the man, a man who has suffered because he lost his own sisters and has been unable to find them, despite his wealth.

For his part, Jack is soon fascinated by the lovely, intelligent and forthright Ms. Faelyn. But, unbeknownst to him, the two are at cross-purposes when it comes to the Willowmoon Knot. And Mairey fears that this conflict will destroy their growing love.

Mairey's unconventional behavior and attitudes make perfect sense given her unusual upbringing, so I was perfectly able to accept her "modern" character. She is a most attractive heroine. Jack needs the warmth and love that she brings to his life and is a most worthy hero.

I was personally charmed by the author's accurate depiction of the joys and frustrations of historical research. The search through probate and parish records, the frustrations of dead ends, the delight of promising leads, the painstaking and often fruitless examination of page after page, drawer after drawer, folio after folio it seemed all too familiar to yours truly. I was likewise much taken by her description of the state of public records and public property in the mid-19th century. We contemporary historians take the marvelous efficiency of the Public Record Office too much for granted.

But of course, The Wedding Night is a love story and its appeal rests not on the illustrations of how to do archival research but rather on the relationship of the hero and heroine. And what a relationship it is. The love scenes are, shall we say, searing.

This is the second historical romance by Linda Needham that I have read and it certainly won't be the last. She creates compelling characters, provides exciting plots, and paints a (mostly) accurate picture of a past time. The Wedding Night is a fine historical romance. I think you will enjoy it as much as I did.

--Jean Mason


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