Code of Honor

The Defiant Governess

The Hired Hero

Second Chances by Andrea Pickens
(Signet, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-19821-2
The teaser page (that first page inside the front cover that gives readers a tantalizing peek at the story) provides a clue as to this book’s main shortcoming.

“Max!” Her surprise was so great she nearly let the sketchbook slip from her fingers. The initial feeling of shock quickly changed to one of wariness, especially on noting his ashen face and the set of his jaw. “What are you doing in my bedchamber?” she demanded in a voice barely above a whisper, though she feared she already knew the answer.

He rose from the edge of the bed. “Close the door, Miss Allegra. I believe we had better talk.” His hand gestured toward her open trunk, where a pistol, a length of rope, and an assortment of men’s clothing lay in full view. “Perhaps you would care to explain what is going on here?”

The passage hints at hidden secrets and is fraught with sexual possibilities -- What is Allegra concealing? And just imagine -- Max has entered a proper miss’s bedchamber without her knowledge!

The passage, however, is somewhat misleading. Max isn’t the hero -- he’s the hero’s son.

Allegra Proctor has arrived in answer to an advertisement for a “person” of certain qualifications to tutor a young man. The Earl of Wrexham is outraged that Max has agreed to employ a female in the position. Max is a very intelligent youth who has been unchallenged in his studies and is presently at odds with his father. The earl agrees that she is well-qualified and allows her to tutor Max temporarily.

Allegra, a widow, has applied for the position with ulterior motives. She believes that a near neighbor of the earl has stolen a valuable book left to her by her father. It is her intention to locate and retrieve the book.

Max is intrigued by Allegra’s stratagem and insists that she allow him to join her. But their plans go awry and before long, the earl is drawn into their intrigue. Will they recover Allegra’s book? Will Allegra and the earl discover their feelings go deeper than they are willing to admit?

There’s much to like about this book. The characters are well-drawn and appealing. The heroine is gutsy if a little impetuous. The hero is more mature than many and mindful of his many responsibilities. The hero’s son demonstrates enough resolve that it’s easy to believe that one day he’ll be a worthy successor to his father. The villain is satisfyingly dastardly without being a caricature.

Unfortunately, there’s little room left for the romance. . It would probably be more accurate to call this a regency adventure than a regency romance. It’s not that I don’t believe that romance could blossom between the hero and heroine -- in fact, they seem well-matched -- it’s that the romance seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle as the plot moves cheerfully along. With a stronger romance element, it would have received a well-deserved four-heart rating.

If you don’t mind a story that’s thin on the romance but with a strong story line, you’re likely to find Second Chances quite enjoyable. If, on the other hand, you prefer the romance front and center, you may be disappointed.

--Lesley Dunlap

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