The Lost Bride

The Mistress of Rossmor
by Marianne Willman
(St. Martinís, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-312-98132-5
My favorite chocolate chip cookies are a predictable pleasure for me --always delicious and satisfying. The Mistress of Rossmor reminded me of those cookies. The story is one Iíve heard before, but I ate it up and enjoyed every morsel. This particular romance formula seems to work because I got involved in this book.

In 1880, Englishwoman Grace Templar is visiting Rome along with her young American charge, Miss Eliza Bingley, and Mrs. Bingley. Eliza has been introduced to American society without making an impression there, and her mother hopes that bringing Eliza to Rome to rub elbows with vacationing Londoners will help procure a rich husband for the girl. As governess, Grace will help prepare Eliza for her future.

Of course as we know happens in such stories, it is the lovely Grace who meets her match. She is alone in the world but fortunately has the education and bearing of a gentlewoman. She also has the unwanted ability to pick up on the energies of people and events from the past.

Alistair McLean is Lord of Rossmor, possessing an estate in Scotland as well as a scientific bent. He is in Rome to attend meetings of the International Society of Experimental Psychology and the Society for Psychical Research. As fate would have it, McLean happens upon Grace amongst the ruins of Rome just as she experiences a frightening telepathic episode. She collapses but not before McLean recognizes what is happening to her. The place is deserted, so he has no choice but to help her.

McLean is a widower with plenty of interest in the supernatural. Back home in Scotland he has a castle that is said to be haunted. His goal is to get to the bottom of a few of the mysteries surrounding Rossmor Manor and his late wife. His daughter, Janet, seems to have a connection to the troubled spirits there. He sees the great advantage of bringing Grace to Rossmor, yet is not insensitive to her vulnerability. He debates over what to do with her and his dilemma tests his mettle nicely. He seemed very honorable and kind, yet I wasnít always sure about his true feelings.

Grace is thrown into a situation that is both wonderful and terrifying. She quickly develops strong feelings for the dashing Scot. Even when out of her element and facing the unknown she proves to be up to the task of taking care of herself. Never timid or indecisive, she shows herself to be Alistairís equal. I really appreciated seeing Grace rise to her challenges.

The interaction between Grace and Alistair is enjoyable. They have lovely conversations that reflect the sensibilities of people from this era. The journey of their romance is never boring, even if we pretty much know what will happen. In a well-written book, that journey itself gives the reader pleasure. Grace and her hero revel in a passionate relationship, and their love scenes generate some heat. They show a progressive deep regard for each other, but we are kept guessing at the true motivations behind Alistairís pursuit of Grace. Even as Alistair responds to her goodness and beauty, niggling doubts arise because he seems to have secrets he intends to keep.

These characters are well developed, revealing much about themselves through skillfully written dialogue, and the authorís ability to share each characterís thoughts. The Italian and Scottish settings seem very authentic in Ms. Willmanís hands. She paints a vivid picture of the people, places and times, and presents them with a practiced touch. She handles the mystery well, and mixes the supernatural with the realistic nicely. The romance story is never bogged down by the ghost story.

The Mistress of Rossmor is certainly a testament to the authorís growing expertise with paranormal romance. Her other novels may have been a warm-up because it seems she has hit her stride with this one. Iím anxious to see how she will grow from here.

--Deann Carpenter

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