Lord Carlton's Courtship

Lord Mumford’s Minx
by Debbie Raleigh
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6673-2
Cassandra Stanholte is beside herself. A strange woman has shown up at the Stanholte’s Devonshire estate, carrying a marriage certificate that seems to indicate she is the widow of Cassie’s long-lost uncle and that her small son is the rightful heir. Cassie is sure the woman is a fraud, having found an incriminating letter in the woman’s room. If she can track the sender of the letter, perhaps she can uncover the truth a truth that her ineffectual man of business seems uninterested in pursuing.

Cassie decides she has only one option. She knows the sender of the letter is an actress, now under the “protection” of a man named Herbie. She decides to rent a house in the demimonde section of London and attempt to ferret out the woman by posing as another courtesan. Nobody knows her in London, so there will be no reputation to ruin.

Upon leaving her man of affairs, deep in her thoughts and plans, Cassie steps into the path of an oncoming carriage and is knocked down. Luke Travell, Earl of Mumford, and his friend Lord Bidwell leap from the carriage to assist her. When Cassie comes to, Luke is struck by her delicate blonde beauty, but Bidwell assumes she’s just another chit attempting to gain the favor of his friend Mumford, a man known as The Irresistible Earl. He insinuates that Cassie is the third woman that day to try and gain Luke’s attentions, drawing Cassie’s outrage. Before Luke can protest, she disappears into a crowd.

Luke is astonished to see Cassie the very next day, driving in the park. Her hair is now red and her gown is cut much too low. She’s dressed to the hilt as a Cyprian, but why? Luke is determined to find out. He’s even more astonished when he tracks her to a less-than-respectable part of London only to have Cassie tell him to go away, she’s not interested in him, and to please keep his nose out of her business.

Lord Mumford’s Minx kept me reading far into the night, and what worked especially well was the author’s twist on the “secret identity” plot. I’m not giving anything away by letting readers know that Cassie’s true purpose is soon ferreted out by Luke, and rather than being disgusted, he’s even more intrigued and determined to help. Cassie, unused to arrogant men taking charge of her life, resists. As the real reason behind the false marriage certificate reveals itself, Luke and Cassie will need to depend on each other for their own safety.

Luke and Cassie are both lively characters, and their mutual stubbornness is a nice spark without becoming annoying. Luke is arrogant, and Cassie is a bit too determined to go it alone, but these traits will eventually catch up with them and force them to reassess their behavior toward each other. Their unfolding relationship is fun to watch, as Luke and Cassie become friends and allies first, then admit they have deeper feelings. One gets the feeling this match will last.

Lord Bidwell, while only a secondary character, nearly steals the show. He presents himself as a sharp-tongued dandy with a penchant for outrageous waistcoats, but underneath the foppish exterior is a keen intelligence and an ability to act quickly in dangerous situations. He’d make an ideal hero, and I hope Ms. Raleigh considers him for his own story.

A few questions wandered in and out. How would Cassie have inherited the Stanholte estate upon the death of her parents? Entailed vs. unentailed is never discussed. And her overnight transformation from red hair back to golden blonde seemed implausible given the pre-Clairol time setting. Several times, Cassie goes alone into dangerous situations, protesting that she can take care of herself. Being rescued by Luke and royally reamed out for her stupidity made this a bit more palatable.

A strong, exasperated hero, intrigued against his will, and a strong, determined heroine unable to resist him make for a charming story. All in all, Lord Mumford’s Minx is a sharp, entertaining Regency that will leave readers smiling. These lovers are meant to be.

--Cathy Sova

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