Lady Delafont's Dilemma
by Donna Simpson
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-821-76674-0
****
Baxter, Lord Delafont, is shocked to spy a familiar face across a crowded opera theater one evening. The plump beauty immediately arouses an aching longing inside Baxter, as she is the only woman who has ever been able to touch his heart.

She is also his wife.

Baxter and Emily had married for love years before. At first their was an idyllic life; happy in each other's company, they had retired to his estate to begin their family. But several years passed without any children, and soon Emily's apparent inability to conceive, combined with the sniping of Baxter's mother, drove a wedge between them. Their once-close marriage became distant and cool. A separation followed. Now it's been two years since Baxter laid eyes on Emily. True, she's gained some weight. But she's also still the most desirable woman he's ever known.

Emily has come to London to enjoy the sights and begin to reshape her life. Buried in the country on an estate with only an aunt for company brought her little peace; perhaps London's social scene will be what she needs to revive her spirits. Running into Baxter at the opera doesn't help, though. He's as cool as ever, appearing totally disinterested.

Emily finds a most unlikely ally in Baxter's mother, who decides if she's to get an heir for the family, she'll have to force Emily and Baxter back together. Baxter begins to question his actions during their marriage. Perhaps he should have protected Emily more from his mother. Perhaps it wasn't all her fault that she didn't conceive. Is their any hope for their marriage?

This is merely the bare bones of the plot, which also involves several attempts on Baxter's life and a young Frenchman who has his own longings for Emily. There's also the matter of Baxter's mistress, a young actress he rescued from the streets and rather reluctantly formed a relationship with, but no longer desires. And Sylvester Lessington, a mutual friend who assists in their rekindled romance, adds a startling touch of realism to the story.

It would be easy to dismiss this story as a Big Misunderstanding tale, but it's really much more than that. Baxter and Emily are presented as two people to whom love came easily -- perhaps too easily. Swept up in the passion, they were unprepared to face the hard work needed to preserve a marriage fallen on hard times and burdened by family expectations. Now, older and mature, they must face the tough task of rebuilding.

Both Emily and Baxter were believable, likable characters. Baxter is the more hardheaded of the two, and his willingness to leap to conclusions forms some of the conflict in the book, but he's also a man who has been laid low by the loss of his marriage. It will take some groveling to convince Emily he means it this time around. And the fact that the two leads are already married allowed the author more leeway in her love scenes, which are far hotter and more explicit than usually found in a Regency romance.

Readers who are a wee bit bigger than a size eight themselves will relish Baxter's attraction to his plump wife, too.

The "jumping to conclusions" aspect of Baxter's character won't please everyone, and I admit there was a point at which I was fairly exasperated with him myself. But for something out of the ordinary, Lady Delafont's Dilemma has a lot to offer and is definitely a recommended read.

--Cathy Sova


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