A Spinster’s Luck by Rhonda Woodward
(Signet Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-20761-0
Newcomer Rhonda Woodward shows a definite flair for the Regency period in her debut romance, A Spinster’s Luck. This story of a gentlewoman who catches the eye of a duke has sparkle and heart.

Miss Celia Langston, age sixteen, has come to live with the widowed Duchess of Harbrooke and her two small sons. Celia will care for the boys as their governess. Celia’s late father was the vicar in the neighborhood, and the kindly young Duchess is quite fond of her. Celia is shocked, therefore, to hear the Duchess’ brother, the visiting Duke of Severly, suggest that she might be too young to properly supervise the boys. Celia vows to avoid Severly at all costs, a vow she manages to keep for ten years.

Drake, Duke of Severly, returns to his sister’s estate for a visit and spies Celia and his nephews out for a walk. He watches as Celia instructs them in the fine art of skipping stones, and his curiosity is piqued. When Celia appears to avoid him, he decides to force the issue. He summons Celia on the pretext of inquiring about his nephews’ progress, and finds he’s even more intrigued by her after their brief conversation.

When the Duchess decides to go to London for the wedding of Princess Charlotte, Celia goes with her. Then an elderly acquaintance dies and leave Celia a sizeable fortune, and suddenly the spinster needs to be launched into society. Celia is an immediate success. Now the Duke of Severly must come to grips with his attraction, and decide whether to risk his heart.

Celia is portrayed as a level-headed young woman, albeit her initial dislike of Severly is based upon an overheard misunderstanding. When she finds herself falling for Drake, she fights it, believing her background isn’t nearly stellar enough for a duke of the realm. While this might have felt clichéd, here it’s presented as a perfectly logical reaction. The orphan who’s spent years caring for little boys simply can’t believe anyone like Drake would be interested in her.

Drake, for his part, tries to drown his attraction to Celia in the attentions of his former mistress, not a very astute move on his part. The mistress is the typical conniving witch, and her lies and machinations drive the second half of the book. She’s entertaining without being over the top, and the final scene is unusual. The problem with this setup is it makes Drake come across as more than a bit thickheaded. He does ride to Celia’s defense when needed, though, and the climax involves a certain amount of torment on Drake’s part as he believes he’s lost Celia forever.

A secondary romance between the Duchess and an old flame hardly registers, but since the Duchess wasn’t all that defined, it wasn’t missed.

The author makes a few first-novel mistakes, notably in the use of a ping-pong point of view. This was mildly distracting and made it hard to follow the thread in places. In places, thoughts shifted from Celia’s head to Drakes and back to Celia’s on one page. Where were the editors on this?

Overall, A Spinster’s Luck is a strong Regency debut. With a little more attention to detail, Rhonda Woodward’s stories will likely flow seamlessly. I’ll be looking forward to her next release.

--Cathy Sova

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