“Royally Wed”

 
The Pregnant Princess
by Anne Marie Winston
&
Man...Mercenary...Monarch
by Joan Elliot Pickart
(Silh. Desire #1268, $3.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-76268-2
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1303, $4.50, R) ISBN 0-373-24303-0
**
I am reviewing these two books in tandem because they are symptoms of one of my besetting weaknesses -- series-itis. This is a condition that can strike without warning. One reads a book in a series and then finds oneself looking for the rest of the series, however improbable the premise for said series might be. Do you suppose there’s a group for “Series Readers Anonymous”?

Trust me; the premise for the series “Royally Wed” is pretty darn improbable! Imagine that there is a kingdom on an island in the North Atlantic off the coast of England. And imagine that thirty plus years ago the king and queen of Wynborough were traveling in the United States. And imagine that their infant son, Prince James, was kidnapped. And imagine that they thought him dead. And imagine that the king and queen subsequently had four daughters. And imagine that the four daughters discovered somehow that maybe, just maybe, the prince hadn’t died. And imagine that the four set out to the US one by one and two by two to try to discover what ever happened to Baby James. And imagine that each princess, while on her particular quest, finds love.

Pretty hard to imagine, isn’t it?

I got involved in this cross-line series when I read Suzanne Brockmann’s entry, Undercover Princess in the SIM line. Being a victim of series-itis, when I saw two installments, I picked them up. Even the unbelievable titles didn’t deter me, so serious is my case of this disease. I sort of wish I had taken my anti-series serum that day. Frankly, neither book came close to the Brockmann in depth or character development or interest.

The Pregnant Princess (can you believe that title?) tells the story of Princess Elizabeth. Five months earlier, at a charity masked ball back home, she had seen a tall, dark stranger across the crowded room. Eyes locked, sparks flew, and after dancing the night away, the princess and her masked man slipped out to the garden house where they had an unforgettable night of love. Elizabeth certainly couldn’t forget it, because she ended up pregnant. All she had to identify her lover is a business card that reads “Thornton Design and Construction Company. Phoenix, Arizona. USA.” Now, the quest for the missing heir takes her to Phoenix. There are two candidates for the honor and one has been traced to a town near that city. Elizabeth decides she just might look up you-know-who while she’s in the neighborhood.

You-know-who sees the princess’ picture in the local paper and suddenly realizes who his mystery lover is. He is not pleased. It turns out that you-know-who is really Prince Raphael, son of the Grand Duke of Thorntonburg. All his life his overbearing father had told him Rafe must shape up so that he could marry one of the Wyndham princesses. He disliked royal pomp and circumstance so much that he fled to America. Now he thinks that he was set up on that lovely evening and he’s not having any -- until he discovers that Elizabeth is pregnant. And then the fun begins.

It turns out that Elizabeth’s candidate could not be Prince James, which leaves just one prospect, John Colton, adopted brother of Mitch Colton, who married another of the princesses in one of the books I never found. John was adopted from the orphanage to which the baby had been traced. Unfortunately, John is one of those secret agent types and has been incommunicado for months. (Man...Mercenary...Monarch, an equally strange title.) Since all of the Wynborough princesses are heading home for Elizabeth’s and Rafe’s wedding, they decide to leave their friend and public relations expert, Laura Bishop, at the Colton Ranch, just in case John turns up.

John does return home, with a big problem on his hands. He goes to the local honky tonk to contemplate this new wrinkle in his life. When an attractive woman who doesn’t look like she’s used to frequenting honky tonks walks in and immediately starts having trouble with an obnoxious cowboy, John rides to the rescue. Yes, it’s Laura Bishop, who has come to town because she’s lonely and at loose ends at the ranch.

Laura and John have one of those instant attraction moments. They decide not to even identify themselves, just to go with the flow. John tells Laura about his wrinkle: he’s just discovered that a brief affair resulted in a son and that the mother has died. Now he is responsible for an eleven-month old baby. Laura tells John about her dream of her particular pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: a man to love and raise a family with. The two slip out to John’s motel where they have an unforgettable night of love. Then they part. John doesn’t believe he can really love anyone and anyway, he has to devote all his attention to caring for his new son.

The next day, John shows up at the Colton Ranch, baby Jeremiah in tow, meets Laura again to both their astonishment, and she informs him that he is really Prince James of Wynborough. And then the fun begins.

I suppose that, given the constraints of the storyline, neither of these books is all that bad. Certainly Rafe’s dislike of all the royalty stuff makes a certain degree of sense and we can understand why he might feel as if he were somehow set up. Certainly John’s confusion and uncertainty given the double blow of discovering that he is a father and a prince is perfectly comprehensible. I suppose that if one has bought into the fantasy, well then both books move the story along. It’s just that, while I could buy into the storyline once, it seemed more and more improbable as it went along.

But obviously, lots of readers have embraced the “Royally Wed” fantasy. Having matched up all five Wynborough offspring with their perfect mates, Harlequin is moving onto the Thorntons. I think I’ll get a vaccination.

--Jean Mason


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