A Spinster's Luck

Lady Emma’s Dilemma
by Rhonda Woodward
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-21701-2
Lady Emma’s Dilemma contains that most annoying of plot devices: the story hinges on a thirteen-year-old misunderstanding that could be cleared up with one short conversation. Add to this the hero and heroine’s immature reasoning when all is revealed and what you have is a story that doesn’t have a strong foundation.

Lovely young widow Lady Emmaline Fallbrook has decided to return to the London social scene, teasing her grandmother that perhaps she’ll even take a lover. At the opera one evening, Emma hears that Jack, Baron Devreux, is in town. At one time, when they were young, Emma and Jack had loved each other fiercely. Jack’s father had bankrupted their family, however, and Emma’s family felt she could do much better than an impoverished baron. Their ill-fated romance fell apart when they tried to elope. Emma married Lord Fallbrook and it was not a happy marriage. Now, after seven years of widowhood, she is about to meet Jack again.

Emma catches the eye of several potential suitors, among them Lord Monteford, who already has a rather jealous mistress. Sally Willoughby is used to being the toast of London. Emma, who quickly becomes a much-sought-after belle, is definitely a threat. Then Emma and Jack meet again. To her astonishment and chagrin, he seems completely unaffected. Emma, however, finds Jack as attractive as he ever was. She is determined to hide her feelings.

Jack’s memories of their elopement differ from Emma’s. In his eyes, she humiliated him on the most important night of his life, and her marriage to Fallbrook confirmed his belief that Emma was only toying with him. Emma believes Jack abandoned her. Will they get to the truth of the matter?

The story revolves around Jack and Emma getting to know one another again, while Sally schemes in the background and Monteford is up to no good. They have a number of encounters, with one or the other pretending they aren’t interested. Eventually, the details of their fateful elopement night are revealed, and readers may be forgiven if they toss the book down in exasperation and exclaim “Huh?” I won’t give it away, but neither one acted with much maturity, and as such, readers are likely to feel they deserved what they got.

Jack is a decent sort, and one has to applaud his determination to restore the family finances. He is making his fortune breeding horses and racing them, which is suitable enough for a nobleman. Even though he believes Emma deceived him, he can’t help coming to her rescue when Monteford makes a nuisance of himself. Emma is inoffensive enough, but makes little impression. Their eventual conversation, where all is revealed, takes place near the end of the story, and that leaves the reader with two people nursing their respective grudges for two hundred pages, while the author is trying to build a romance out of it. It’s just not very satisfying.

(On a side note, there was some weird spelling in this book. Emma wears a “broach,” someone is described as “imminently” suitable, and at one point, her nerves are “racked.” “Broach” and “racked” are obscure alternate spellings at best, and “imminent” is just plain wrong. What’s up with the copyediting lately?)

Lady Emma’s Dilemma just doesn’t offer enough to garner a recommendation. It’s a shame, because Rhonda Woodward writes well and her voice is well-suited for the Regency period. If you haven’t had the opportunity to try her books yet, I suggest starting with A Spinster’s Luck instead.

--Cathy Sova

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