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Velvet by Sue Rich
(Pocket, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-671-0046-2
***
Velvet is book I am on the fence about. On the one hand, there are some definite problems with the story: the setup is a bit absurd. On the other hand, the characters are appealing, the plot is interesting, and there is a fair amount of good humor and nice dialog, which I found very appealing.

Seventeen-year-old Velvet Storm has a problem; actually, she has four of them. Her four older brothers, dubbed the "fearsome foursome," believe that Velvet should be protected twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. What they want to protect her from are the advances of interested men. But even her overly protective brothers cannot prevent their parents from trying to arrange a marriage for the irrepressible Velvet.

Living on a Virginia plantation with her family has kept Velvet relatively innocent but she does have a mind of her own and she knows what she wants. And what Velvet wants is to go to Italy to study to be a sculptress. Working with clay gives Velvet great joy and she hopes that someday, when she has proved her talent, her family will look upon her as more than a decoration.

However, if her parents are successful in marrying her off, Velvet will never be able to fulfill her dream. So Velvet asks a friend of her brother, the very attractive Christian Stanfield, to "pretend" to be her fiancÚ. Christian refuses because he is already married, although his marriage was never consummated and his wife lives in England.

Undeterred by his refusal, Velvet tricks Christian into placing her in a compromising situation. Christian has no choice but to pretend to be Velvet's fiancÚ and the "fearsome foursome" are not pleased with the fact that their beloved little sister has been compromised.

For me, the biggest problem with the story line is that the author asks you to believe that Christian's friend, and Velvet's brother, knows nothing about Christian being married. It's hard to believe that the subject never came up during the course of their friendship.

And, according to Christian, his marriage is no secret. His wife is very social and he has used his in-name-only wife to keep other women from getting serious about him. Virginia society circa 1785 had a number of ties to English society, someone should have known Christian was married.

Another big problem with the story is the number of unconsummated marriages amongst the Stanfield siblings; the ease of procuring annulments also seems a bit ridiculous. And I thought the author glossed over plantation life, as if slaves did not support the Storm's life style and as if bond servants would just come and go in a matter of weeks instead of years.

Still, it's difficult not to like the humor and the dialog in this story. Although a bit one dimensional, there are a number of quirky minor characters in Velvet. I especially enjoyed the humorous exchanges between Velvet and the woman hired to watch her while her parents were away.

And I liked Velvet. She seems very much like the seventeen-year-old girl she is supposed to be: naive, headstrong and a little spoiled. But, thank goodness, she's not stupid and there isn't a mean bone in her body. Actually, the most entertaining parts of the story line are the acts of vengeance Velvet comes up with to put the "fearsome foursome" in their place, after they hurt Christian for "compromising" her.

In addition, there are a number of interesting secondary characters in this story, including Christian's sister. I expect to hear more about Christian's sister and the rest of the "fearsome foursome" in future books by this author. And, with a little more attention to historical reality, I could get off the fence and be very happy reading more humorous romances by this author.

-- Judith Flavell


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