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You and No Other
by Suzanne Simmons
(Topaz, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-40865-9
***
After 15 years as a tea planter in India, James Gray, the new Earl of Graystone, comes home to England troubled by perplexing dreams of making love to a beautiful woman. While recovering from the rigors of his journey home which included injury and amnesia, he receives an invitation to come to London from Queen Victoria an invitation he cannot refuse. While in London, he meets Cecile of Saint-Simeon, cousin to Queen Victoria.

Cecile has come to London, ostensibly on a visit. In truth, she has come to find the whereabouts of Saint-Simeon's sacred regalia, without which her brother Alexandre cannot be installed as the tiny principality's next ruler. If Alexandre is not properly crowed Prince of Saint-Simeon, the small country on the Mediterranean will become part of France. Cecile will do anything to prevent that, but to throw everyone off the scent, she must do all the things expected of a visiting princess. What she needs is an accomplice.

She recognizes in James a man she can trust. When she asks for his help, he immediately promises it. Asking for a few days to think, he tells the princess that he will be able to come up with a plan that will allow them to find the regalia without anyone suspecting they're hunting for it. A few days later, James explains his plans. First and foremost, they must be able to meet without anyone suspecting why. He suggests he act as her suitor. Seeing the suitability and wisdom of his idea, Cecile agrees that he should pretend to court her.

I wanted to love You and No Other. It begins promisingly: an interesting hero, clean writing, a setting steeped in mood. For the first 25 or so pages, I thought, "At last, something I can read with pleasure." But as I read, expecting to be drawn more deeply into the story, I found myself skating slowly over the surface, never entirely engaged by any of the characters or the story.

James and Cecile apparently have no doubts, no fears, no vulnerabilities. Everything comes easily to them, and there are, as far as I can remember, no internal conflicts to muddy the waters and make the story and its characters compelling.

Cecile is determined never to marry, yet she falls in love with James without a hint of regret or longing for what can never be. James falls in love with Cecile without once thinking, "She can never marry an Englishman. She's a princess." James leaps into assisting Cecile without a moment's doubt. Sure, he did a lot of covert work while in India work that is only hinted at but since India, he suffered amnesia. Maybe he can't do what he used to; maybe he's forgetting something important. Yet he never questions himself or his abilities, never seems to wonder what will happen to Cecile if he fails.

This lack of insecurity contributes to the non-existent spark between James and Cecile. I felt zero chemistry between the characters, zero insecurity, none of that exposed feeling that most of us have when we meet someone we're attracted to. Frankly, I would have liked both of them more if they had seemed more human, with human frailties and fears. As it was, both were pulp fiction heroes, the kind of people who never fail, never break a sweat, who come out of the most dire situations with every hair in place.

Still, I didn't have to force myself to read the story, so I can't in all honesty say it's an "only if you must," read. Ms. Simmons writes clean, neat prose, if not realistic characters, and there was some interest in seeing how all the secondary characters fit into the plot. If you're looking for a story that bowls along without ever engaging your emotions, this might be a good choice.

--Katy Cooper


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