The Devil and Miss Webster

His Saving Grace

To Marry An Heiress by Julia Parks
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) 0-8217-7562-6
To Marry An Heiress, the latest Regency by Julia Parks (aka Donna Bell), uses the familiar plot of an impoverished nobleman, desperate to save his crumbling estate, who becomes an unwilling fortune hunter. Nothing wrong with the setup - it’s realistic enough and has worked well before. What makes this version difficult to love is a thickheaded hero and a heroine who seems to spend half the book in tears.

Montgomery Darby, his twin brother Max, and his younger brother, Tristram, are informed by their gambling father that they need to leave their Cornwall estate and get up to London for the Season. Rich brides are a must because dear old dad has run the place into the ground. Monty, as the oldest, absolutely must marry into money if he hopes to save Darwood Hall, the family home.

The brothers arrive in London and are assisted by the crotchety Marquess of Cravenwell, who has his own reasons for helping them. (This elderly termagant is the most interesting person in the book.) As they are leaving the Cravenwell town house, Monty spies a lovely blonde girl at the house across the street. She’s Miss Adele Landis, and Monty is instantly smitten. This is the woman he’ll marry, he decides.

Unbeknownst to Monty, he’s been spied by Adele’s orphaned cousin and companion, Miss Clarissa Starnes. Clarissa is instantly smitten herself - by Monty, who is the handsomest man she’s ever seen. The next day, Clarissa and Monty happen to meet in the park. Soon Monty is trying to enlist Clarissa’s help in winning her cousin, and because she loves him, Clarissa agrees to help, though it will break her heart.

Adele is a spoiled, selfish, petulant brat, but of course Monty is in love, so he’s not astute enough to see any of it. He dances to her tune, doing anything and everything to win her, while loyal Clarissa is right under his nose. Clarissa, for her part, bursts into tears whenever she thinks about it and realizes that the man of her dreams is in love with her cousin.

This tiresome pair didn’t capture my interest. Clarissa, all blind devotion awash in sobs, was a one-trick pony. Monty can’t see anything amiss with Adele, because he’s in love and she’s so beautiful. Neither of these characters had much depth to them, and most of their interactions revolve around the plot to win Adele over, so there was no sense that they got to know much about each other. When Monty comes to his senses, he does a turnaround in about two paragraphs, which was completely unconvincing. Infatuation? Yes. Love? No way.

The brothers are more interesting, which is a good thing because they will have their own stories, of course. Max is a bit of a hellraiser who loves horses and racing. Tristram is an artist whose wicked caricatures make their way into the scandal sheets. I have a feeling that the sly Marquess of Cravenwell may show up again, too.

To Marry An Heiress falls flat as a romance, but offers tantalizing hints that the brothers’ stories may be much more satisfying.

--Cathy Sova

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