Tiger Lil by Ellen Archer
Zebra ($4.99; PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-5644-3
****
Right from the start you know Tiger Lil is not your ordinary romance -- or your ordinary romantic heroine. Why you ask? Well, on the very first page you find her in bed with a man. Not too long after that you discover that she's had seven "husbands", although Lil herself uses that term rather loosely. What? An historic romance where the heroine isn't A.) a virgin, B.) a goody-goody or C.) seventeen years old? Indeed not. Tiger Lil is a woman of the world and ancient by romance standards -- she's 39!!! By God if I didn't appreciate that!

Lillian Selby Sullivan Kingston Jones Jones Foster Ross Wilcox Teague is the only woman in history to give Elizabeth Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Burton Burton Warner Fortensky a run for her money. In 1887 Tiger Lil, the owner and operator of her very own gambling palace, learns that her Foster husband (one of only two "real" husbands) has died and left her an estate in Maryland. Lily's no fool, so she gives away her faro tables and heads for the east coast. The estate is lacking in upkeep, but not for company. She's barely moved in when her husband's cousin Archibald Foster Pierce arrives at the door. Lily takes one look at him and knows what's on the menu for dessert that night.

A grifter with a smooth style, Archie is in no way prepared for the beautiful, but blunt, Lily. Stalked by loan sharks looking for a payback, Archie has arrived in Maryland in search of the long lost Foster treasure. He bungles his way around the house, locking himself in hidden passages and swinging from chandeliers in an effort to uncover the hidden loot. And, he really thinks he's fooled Lily into believing he's merely using his expertise in antiques to estimate the value of the household furnishings.

What a nice surprise it was to find out that Lily doesn't believe any of this nonsense. She's on to Archie from the first, but she keeps her mouth shut because he amuses her so. What a pleasure it was to meet a character whose intelligence isn't governed by plot. I can't even count the number of books I've read where the supposedly "smart" heroine is completely taken in. Why? Because its an easy plot device for the author. Lily has been around the block more than a few times. She knows a con man when she sees one. If she had believed any of what Archie tells her, it would have gone completely against her character. And the fact that does know, but likes him anyway, tells a great deal about Lily's capacity for love.

Because it isn't very long before she realizes, that for the first time in her life, she has fallen in love. It's a shocking concept for a woman of the world like Lily. And it's equally unnerving for Archie, whose initial notion of Lily as a strumpet is quickly replaced by sheer adoration. She downright amazes him. Her humor, her honesty, her zest for life are qualities that beguile him. Her spirit and fire transform him -- he loses every semblance of composure whenever she turns her heated gaze on him.

Archie and Lily get physical…a lot. The scenes are humorous and, at times, touching. The fact that both characters'….ummm…..organs are practically characters in their own right is downright hilarious. Really! Archie's "Mister Winkie" is named "Roger". Lily dubs her breasts "her kittens -- Ermatrude and Alberta." Silly? Of course. But it's a device that is completely true to the characters.

I think author Ellen Archer has really got something here in a heroine who isn't ashamed of the adventurous life she's led. Lily is a survivor with no reason to believe that life offers anything more than what you're willing to take. She's ill prepared for love, but more than happy to recognize it for the gift it is. Lily is a tough but tender lady that a lot of romance readers will be able to identify with. We know that romance can come to all -- young, old and middle-aged -- and it's nice to see it put down in print for a change. Hey, I love stories with innocents having their eyes opened wide to the wonders of the world. But I can truly appreciate a story where the same thing happens to two "old pros" like Lily and Archie.

Kudos to Ellen Archer. Tiger Lil is a memorable, fun read with a gutsy heroine, a charming hero and a style all its own.

--Ann McGuire


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