Must Have Been the Moonlight
by Melody Thomas
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-056448-2
****
Melody Thomas' sophomore effort rates a solid recommended status with a story that spans the deserts around Cairo and the ducal estate of Aldbury near London. Must Have Been the Moonlight is a tale of intrigue and love with two wonderfully crafted characters.

Brianna Donally is in Egypt helping her sister-in-law Alexandria, a noted archeologist, because her family banished her. Brianna believes in woman's suffrage and helping the poor. She is a photographer and decided to publish a book seeking help for the prostitutes of London. Scandal is what she got instead, even if the book sold rather well. Her brother Christopher is attached to the consulate in Cairo and that is where she finds herself. When the caravan she and Alexandria are traveling with is attacked, her world changes yet again. Luckily they had separated themselves from the main body and could do nothing but watch the horror. Confronted hours later by a man dressed as a Bedouin, Brianna tries to shoot him and Alexandria hits him on the back of the head. When he awakens, they realize he is actually their rescuer James Michael Fallon Ravenspur known to the army as Major Fallon.

Michael is the disgraced third son of a duke. He and his brother fought a duel over a woman and he was disinherited. He joined the army and changed his name. He is instantly attracted to Brianna, and she to him. Her strength of character is captivating. And of course, her beauty doesn't hurt. As they travel in the desert back to Cairo, he realizes she can break down some barriers in his heart. Brianna simply feels something and is interested in exploring it she doesn't want to marry anyone because it would give her husband too much power over her.

Familiar plots and feelings, but written against the desert background with a firm understanding of the line between sincerity and stubbornness. Michael and Brianna's feelings are believable and their actions fall into place. By the time they consummate their feelings, Michael starts to hope there might be more and Brianna refuses to consider it in her mind. Yet, when circumstances dictate, they marry without a fuss.

The backdrop of the tale shifts to England when Michael discovers he has inherited the dukedom. His last brother died from a fall from a horse and his sister-in-law delivered a daughter and thus no heir. At the same time, his career is ending because of a sheik that Michael offended by accusing (rightfully so) of being a drug trader. He and Brianna return to England. Here the tale becomes one of getting to know their new world and finding their place in it. The intrigue that follows them from Egypt is a fitting mystery and well written.

I truly enjoyed the tale on many levels. Brianna is a wonderfully smart woman who tries to balance her beliefs with the reality of the world. She comes across as a person who can be true to herself, yet who realizes the importance of getting along with others, too. Michael has made a place for himself and is confident he can make his way, yet has much to get past when he returns to England. His love for Brianna helps him and he is strong enough to realize it without a great deal of angst.

Their relationship is full of love, laughter, arguing, attraction, respect, and friendship. While they don't always agree with each other, they do realize that what they have is special and yet they don't gush over each other either. They stay true to their own character as they figure out how they fit into this new relationship.

While the tale generally flows, there are some things that are a bit hard to follow. Some of the mystery involving the sheik and someone trying to kill Michael, both in Egypt and England, is a little convoluted. Not until the very end is everything pieced together and this ending seemed a little far fetched and a little bit of a let down after the intrigue throughout the book. At one point, the story seemed to end and then another few scenes were thrown in so that all the threads could be neatly tied. While it was exciting, it could have been done better.

Must Have Been the Moonlight is a wonderfully romantic and engaging tale of love and intrigue with two interesting characters that definitely fit together. Don't hesitate to enjoy the journey with them.

--Shirley Lyons


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