The Ideal Bride
by Nonnie St. George
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-7590-1
Nonnie St. George does everything right in her debut Regency, The Ideal Bride. Itís been way too long since readers were treated to a romance of this style. With its snappy dialogue, fast pacing, and two stubborn characters who knock each other for a loop, itís Regency elevated to near-farce. How delightful!

Mr. Gabriel Carr is a successful London businessman with a dozen ventures under his control. Heís absurdly handsome, a fact of which heís well aware and quite proud, but heís nearing thirty and itís time to marry and start a family. Gabriel doesnít want a woman who will only care for his face and fortune, so he devises a List of traits he wants in a wife. She must be restrained, dignified, reasonably attractive, and capable of managing a household. Oh, and she must be of the merchant class so she canít hold her birthright over his head, though heís cousin to a baronet and considered a gentleman by the ton.

Lady Nola Grenvale is the amiable sister of an earl, and a happy spinster at that. She has found her calling assisting war widows in small business ventures, where they can be self-supporting. Now she is on the hunt for an empty warehouse in which to start a Widowís Bazaar of stalls, where several hundred widows might offer their wares for sale. Nola has found the perfect building. Unfortunately, it belongs to Mr. Gabriel Carr, who has no interest in helping her with this venture.

Nola isnít about to take ďnoĒ for an answer. She descends on Gabrielís house, where she attempts to convince him of the projectís merits. Gabriel is rather put off that this slender redhead doesnít even seem to notice his looks and fine physique. In truth, Nola is more than attracted to Gabriel, but refuses to let his looks distract her. Their battle of wills is complicated by the machinations of Gabrielís daffy mother, who dearly wants to see her son married; Nolaís managing aunts, who are two elderly Countesses; and Gabrielís friends and acquaintances, who believe the List is idiotic and heís missing a treasure right under his nose.

Through a series of events, Nola and her two aunts end up ensconced in the Carr home while Gabriel is laid up with an injured knee. Since nobody in the house is willing to take on the job of helping him with his business correspondence, Nola offers, and the door is opened for Gabriel and Nola to finally get to know one another.

Conversations rule the day in this story, and they often take place at a lightning clip. Alert reader will no doubt find themselves laughing out loud at some of the dialogue. Gabrielís best friend, the indolently charming Duke of St. Fell, skewers Gabrielís ego at just the right times. Gabrielís mother, Nolaís aunts, her brother the Earl, the maids, even a fat dog named Fig and a chef who sculpts confections into battle scenes all provide comic relief at times.

But at the heart of the story is the burgeoning romance between Nola and Gabriel. Heís a hero who has forever had women swooning at his feet because of his looks, yet finds Nola entirely unimpressed by them. Sheís quite intrigued by his business acumen, though, and Gabriel finds himself irritated, unsettled, and fascinated. Nola knows she isnít the woman for Gabriel Ė especially once his List comes to light Ė and is therefore free to speak plainly and honestly to him Ė which she does, with a vengeance. Neither expects the strong bond that builds between them, as neither has had anyone look beneath the surface before.

Itís quite a testament to the authorís skill that she kept me reading past the third chapter, because initially, Gabriel is almost overwhelmingly narcissistic. Of course, no woman has ever been interested in him for anything more than his looks and money, so by now itís a habit for him to dwell on his physical attributes. Nola is the perfect foil. When she informs Gabriel sheís not in the least interested in marrying him, but she would like his warehouse, Gabriel is brought to his knees in fine fashion.

Readers should bear in mind that fast-paced farce is not everyoneís cup of tea, and some may find lightning-quick dialogue to be exhausting. And I have a minor quibble with the couple on the cover. Either the man has found a new place to store his socks, or heís very happy to see the lady. No pun intended, but whatís up with that?

Nonnie St. George has a fine career ahead of her if this debut novel is a true sample of her talent. Her next book will feature the intriguing St. Fell, and I canít wait to see what she does with his story. If you like witty, breezy romance with lots of sass and sparkle, donít miss The Ideal Bride. Itís an ideal way to spend an afternoon.

--Cathy Sova

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