Lady Delafont's Dilemma

Lord St. Claire's Angel

Lady Mayís Folly by Donna Simpson
(Zebra, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-8217-6805-0
Donna Simpson is one of a coterie of new Regency authors who have arrived on the scene in the past year or so, thus giving this devoted fan some hope that her favorite comfort reads will remain both available and entertaining. In Lady Mayís Folly, her third novel, Simpson demonstrates once again that in talented hands, a Regency romance provides a few hours of delightful escape.

We met both the heroine and the hero in Simpsonís earlier books. Lady May von Hoffen was introduced in Lord St. Claireís Angel. A considerable heiress, Lady May was determined never to marry. Her widowed motherís dissolute lifestyle had convinced May that the male of the species is to be avoided, not courted. In Lady Delafontís Dilemma, Mayís low opinion of men is reinforced when she nearly falls prey to her motherís loverís vicious attack. She is rescued by the dashing Frenchman, Etienne Delafont. However, Etienne shortly disappears, accused of attempting to murder his cousin, Lord Delafont. Now, if this all seems too complex to you, donít worry. Simpson skillfully provides all the backstory a reader needs.

After her horrible experience of nearly being raped, May retreats to her country estate. Her recovery is slow, but finally she feels comfortable enough to return to her favorite occupation, riding about her property dressed in her breeches. She approaches an isolated garden folly, a beloved haunt of her childhood. And whom should she discover there but Etienne, gravely wounded and close to death.

Coincidences are such a commonplace in novels that they can easily be overlooked if the story is good, and this one is. Etienne is fleeing from a man who wants vengeance. Moreover, he has been accused of attempted murder. Thus, May cannot go for help, but must care for the man who saved her, the only man who has ever touched her heart.

There are three levels of interest in the tale. First, there are all the problems May must solve to keep Etienneís presence secret and to provide him with the help he needs. Second, there is the danger that his enemies might find him. Thirdly, and obviously central to the story, is the growing romance between May and Etienne. There is a fourth element: Mayís problematic relationship with her mother. Simpson weaves all of these strands into a seamless story.

The author has created a cast of interesting characters. May is a woman who believed that she wanted her independence above all; she didnít believe in love. Already favorably disposed toward the man who saved her, she finds herself experiencing feelings she never before imagined. Etienne is a bit of a rogue, but not really nearly as bad as he has been painted. He increasingly finds the waif-like loveliness of his rescuer attractive even though she is not the kind of woman he has always preferred.

What is so pleasant about the love story is watching the hero and heroine fall in love in the isolated, sylvan folly. As they spend time together, they get to know each other, to appreciate each other and to love each other. The conflict entails both the external threat to Etienne and the fact that he cannot see himself as a worthy suitor for a wealthy young woman. Of course, all ends well but not before we become reacquainted with the characters from Simpsonís first two books.

Whenever I find a new Regency author whose work I enjoy, I celebrate. I also worry because I know how poorly rewarded Regency writers are and how likely they are to move out of the subgenre. I sure hope Donna Simpson sticks around for a while. She has a deft touch for recreating the world of Regency England, creates unusual characters, constructs good plots, and offers lovely romances. Lady Mayís Folly is a very good Regency romance.

--Jean Mason

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