Her Highness, My Wife

The Husband List

Love With the Proper Husband

The Marriage Lesson

The Wedding Bargain

The Pursuit of Marriage
by Victoria Alexander
(Avon, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-06-051762-X
This book has 340 pages of entertaining, energetic story and charming romance that I recommend highly. Unfortunately, the book is 391 pages long. Reading it was like watching Smarty Jones run the Belmont.

At 24, Cassandra Effington wants to be married. Unfortunately, the man she’s looking for doesn’t seem to exist and she’s vocally uninterested in reforming a rake. What she wants is “someone respectable but not dull. Exciting but not dangerous. Strong but not overbearing. Loyal and trustworthy but not a lapdog.”

Such paragons aren’t exactly thick on the ground. While she waits for one to show up, Cassie is redecorating the homes of the aristocracy and enjoying it mightily. Her family and friends are scandalized that she’s accepting money for her services, which smacks of low trade, but part of her appeal as a decorator is the exclusivity conferred by her hefty fees.

Viscount Berkley – Reggie to his friends – is more puzzled than concerned when his widowed mother claims sudden illness. Her doctor advises Reggie to indulge her whims, so when his mother says that she wants Reggie to completely redecorate their home in readiness for the as-yet unknown woman he will marry, he agrees. When he sees the proposed decorator – Cassie – Reggie immediately suspects his parent’s motives. Cassie intrigues him, though, so he is more than willing to work very closely with her.

There’s just one problem. Reggie, who has a history of falling in love with women who do not return his feelings, has spent the last year cultivating an image as a rake in the hope that it would have women flinging themselves at his feet. Now, the woman he’s falling for wants nothing to do with him because of his “infamous” reputation.

What’s a fake rake to do? Well, for one thing, he might suggest a bet, a bet that he and Cassie each try to find the other their Lord Perfect or Miss Wonderful. Reggie is certain that, when he finds Cassie the kind of man she thinks she wants, she’ll be bored to tears in minutes. He already knows her chances of success.

So, for about 340 pages I enjoyed myself enormously, watching these two characters bob and weave around each other. Each presents a façade to the world, in the sincere if misguided belief that it is what the world wants.

There are plenty of twists and turns, as Reggie and Cassie wind themselves deeper in the coils they’ve created and have to find a way to admit that the other is their all-too-human ideal. Every time they think they’ve found a way to escape, and that a happy resolution is within reach, the author throws them another curve and we watch with delight as they struggle to find a way out of their self-inflicted intrigue.

One of the things that makes the whole journey so much fun is the fact that it all clearly grows directly out of the protagonists’ characters and the situation they’ve created. This is the best kind of storytelling. Even better, Cassie and Reggie keep their senses of humor as well as their brains, and it was completely believable to me that, throughout their struggles, they were learning more about each other and about themselves. This always makes the love story so much more believable. The consummation takes place very late, but I enjoyed the escalation of tension so much it all seemed perfectly appropriate.

Then, in the last fifty pages, it just falls apart. It was heartbreaking (and not in a good way).

Reggie does something of such boneheaded stupidity that I wanted to shoot him. Cassie forgets everything she’s learned and reverts to the prejudices she started out with. It’s unbelievably frustrating.

Fortunately, the frustrating part is over with quickly – but when the book ended on such an awkward note, it colored all my impressions of it. I was glad I had my glowing notes from the first 340 pages to remind me of how much fun that was.

So read and enjoy this book – but maybe stop right after the hero and heroine make love. At that point, the fun’s over.

--Judi McKee

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