The Lady Most Willing
by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James & Connie Brockway
(Avon, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0062107381
****
A book like A Lady Most Willing is notoriously hard to rate because itís an aggregate. Letís say that in this instance, Julia Quinnís story was a standout, Connie Brockway is still a darned good writer, and Eloisa Jamesís characters talk a bit too much. But it made for a fun, sparkly read nonetheless.

Taran Ferguson, the irascible laird of Finovair Castle, is beyond aggravated with his two nephews, neither of whom seem to be in any hurry to get married and present Taran with an heir. In a flash of whisky-soaked inspiration, Taran and his clansmen crash a local house party and abduct three young ladies. Surely one of them will be willing to marry a nephew.

Upon arriving back at Finovair in a blinding snowstorm, Taran is nonplussed when his abductees emerge from the also-stolen coach. Lady Cecily is a lovely flower of English womanhood. Fiona Chisholm is a local heiress, as is her spoiled, beautiful half-sister, Marilla. But a fourth woman emerges from the coach: Catriona Burns, a local lass with no fortune at all, kidnapped by mistake, as is the fifth occupant, John Shevington, the Duke of Bretton. Itís his coach and heíd been enjoying a short nap in it when four ladies were thrust inside.

Catriona and the duke, as uninvited quests, quickly size each other up and like what they see. This is Julia Quinnís contribution and itís a dandy. When the predatory Marilla sets her sights on becoming a duchess, John and Catriona join forces to throw her off track, and a romance blossoms. Itís full of wit and budding friendship, as Catriona isnít one to be intimidated by a duke and John finds heís ill-equipped to deal with a woman who isnít an opera dancer or a courtesan. I laughed out loud at some of their interactions, and whatís not to enjoy about a duke brought to his knees by love?

Byron Wotton, himself an Earl as well as Taranís nephew, is attracted to red-haired, bespectacled Fiona. An unfortunate incident in her past involving an arranged fiancť has made Fiona the undeserved pariah of the district, and she has resigned herself to remaining unwed. In order not to bring further shame to her family, she retreats into books. Byron is a bit stuffy and proper, but Fiona manages to get under his skin...eventually. Their romance is prefaced with a lot of conversation, and some of it dragged. When Marilla spitefully informs Byron of Fionaís past, heíll need to shed his own in order to create a future with her. If this Eloisa James story had moved along at a bit faster clip, I wouldnít have felt like skipping pages in the middle. The ending is suitably romantic, though, and James offers readers a heated scene at the end, the only one in the book.

Connie Brockway finishes the book with the story of Lady Cecily and Robin Parles, Taranís second nephew. Robin is the antithesis of Byron: heís a penniless rake Ė albeit a Comte Ė with a reputation to make a proper mama shudder. Cecily is undeterred. She fell in love with him at first sight, and unbeknownst to her, Robin is equally smitten. But his reputation and lack of fortune put Cecily beyond his reach, at least in his mind. So Cecily decides that she must do the seducing, and the game is on as the pursuer becomes the pursued. Itís a fine turn-the-tables story and an excellent end to the book.

The Lady Most Willing is a humorous, entertaining read, just right for a winter day. Three diverse couples who find love under extenuating circumstances Ė itís a delicious recipe!

--Cathy Sova


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