My Darline Caroline

Winter Garden

Someone Irresistible

Stolen Charms

When Itís Perfect by Adele Ashworth
(Avon, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-380-81807-8
Miss Mary Marsh has always known her station in life. She is a seamstress who specializes in creating fashionable undergarments for proper young ladyís wedding trousseaus. Her latest assignment had been to outfit the Countess of Rennís only daughter, Christine, who was engaged to the neighboring Viscount Exeter in Cornwall. All of that is past tense now, since Christine was discovered dead.

Christineís death brings home the prodigal son, Marcus Longfellow, the Earl of Renn. While he is the Earl, he has spent the last several years in Egypt, pursuing his passion for archeology. While corresponding with his beloved sister, he becomes concerned. Christine seems to be deeply troubled by something, but is unwilling to put a voice to it in her letters. Marcus returns home to Cornwall, only to learn his beautiful sister is dead. The whole episode is ruled an accident, but Marcus has his suspicions - so he turns to the one woman who his sister seemed to trust the most during her final days - Miss Mary Marsh.

Ashworth creates two extremely likable characters in her follow up to Someone Irresistible. Marcus is a nearly picture perfect hero - confident, sure of himself, but deeply troubled by his inability to help his sister. While Earl of Renn, he would much rather make his own way in the world than fall into the obligation of running the family estate and china clay mines. He has left that bit of business to his younger brother, George, much to the displeasure of his mother, who wants her son to forget all the archeology nonsense and behave like a normal titled gent.

Mary is a smart woman, a spinster at almost 30 years of age, who has given up any hopes of love and marriage. She has dutifully continued on with her business, which she has much success at, and taking care of her arthritic father. She has some past pain back home in London that she currently wants to avoid, thus spurring her to take the job at Cornwall and live at the Renn estate. Christine spent much time playing matchmaker, and discussed her handsome, older brother during her fittings with regularity. Needless to say, by the time Mary meets Marcus, sheís very interested.

When Itís Perfect is a little slow to build up steam; the first 100 pages are utilized to delve into the psyches of the couple. All of this groundwork pays off in spades by the second half of the story, when the sexual tension takes on plenty of heat and the couple finally succumbs. Itís hot stuff, and the dialog that further follows had this reader melting into a fit of romantic sighs.

The mystery is a nice little subplot, and Ashworth includes snippets of Christineís letters to Marcus allowing the reader to really get to know the girl. I found the uncertainties that Christine faced during her final days very compelling and believable. Likewise, the author really has a handle on the Victorian time period, mores, and societal demands. The fact that nobody comes out and just says whatever is on their mind really gives the reader a feel for the time period.

Historical purists will likely take issue with a romance featuring a seamstress and an Earl. That said, I still highly encourage historical lovers to pick up When Itís Perfect. It very nearly is, and gets my stamp of approval as one of the best historical romances of the year.

--Wendy Crutcher

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