A Christmas Bride

The Gifts of Christmas

Indiscreet

Irresistible

The Last Waltz

One Night for Love

A Regency Christmas Carol

Silent Melody

The Temporary Wife

Thief of Dreams

Truly

Unforgiven

 
More Than a Mistress
by Mary Balogh
(Delacorte, $16.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-385-33531-8
*****
Let me tell you my experience with this book. I was halfway through it while traveling on the New Jersey Turnpike. Daylight was fading, and I was desperately angling the book to catch any light from illuminated billboards or headlights from passing semi trucks. Even though it was late when we arrived home, I promptly plopped myself down on the sofa and read till the wee small hours rather than go to bed with it unfinished. The next day I was already rereading sections of it. Yesterday I was rereading other sections. Next week I expect Iíll be rereading it again. Every time I pick it up - even to move it - I find myself rereading a few pages.

And that, my friends, is proof positive that More Than a Mistress is a five-heart keeper.

Jocelyn Dudley, the dangerous Duke of Tresham, is coolly meeting Lord Oliver across a field in Hyde Park in the early morning. This is the fourth duel Jocelyn has fought over a ladyís honor, in this case over Lady Oliver. Miss Jane Ingleby, passing by on her way to work, sees them about to shoot and yells, ďStop!Ē Jocelyn is distracted, but Lord Oliver plays foul and fires his pistol wounding the duke.

Because she is late, Jane loses her employment. She goes to Jocelynís Grosvenor Square townhouse to get a note from him explaining her tardiness and ends up assisting the surgeon in removing the bullet. The duke insists that since his injury was her fault she must serve as his nurse during his recovery warning her that she might prefer starvation. A composed Jane inquires, ďWhat are my wages to be?Ē

Meanwhile, the Earl of Durbury has hired a Bow Street runner to search for an anonymous runaway country girl who has injured his son to the point of death and fled with money and jewels.

Over the course of the next few weeks, Janeís strength of character refuses to allow her to be intimidated by her caustic employer, but she tries to remain in obscurity while a parade of friends and family visit Jocelyn. One of the frequent topics of gossip discussed is the search for the murderer of the Earl of Durburyís son.

Jane is, of course, the mysterious girl being sought, and the Earl is her uncle and guardian. When she defended herself against his sonís assault, he fell and hit his head. She fled to her godmotherís home in London only to find her away so now sheís trying to avoid detection and possible prosecution.

Jocelyn gradually finds himself more and more attracted to the enigmatic Jane Ingleby. He sees her many talents and begins to doubt her tale of being an orphan raised in an orphanage. When his recuperation is over, he offers Jane continued employment ... as his mistress.

Will love develop in such an unequal relationship? Will Janeís past catch up with her? Will Jocelyn forgive her lies?

Mary Balogh has a talent for creating lead characters whose conflicts camouflage how right they are for each other. I always believe that the hero and heroine are uniquely suited to each other and that no one else will do. In Jocelyn and Jane, the author has created two of her best - and thatís saying something!

Long-time Mary Balogh fans may notice a resemblance between the characters of Jocelyn and Jane and those of Anthony Earheart and Charity Duncan, the hero and heroine of the authorís superb short regency, The Temporary Wife. Like Anthony, Jocelyn is arrogant, domineering, and emotionally disconnected. Like Charity, Jane has a hidden past, is forced to earn her living, not easily intimidated, and has a great capacity for empathy for others.

One of the satisfying aspects of the story is seeing how Jocelyn and Jane perfectly complement each other and watching them slowly discover it too. The sexual tension between them builds convincingly - their verbal exchanges are better foreplay than pages of purple physical description. While it might be difficult to believe that a woman of Janeís genteel upbringing would readily accept a position as a manís mistress, I found it quite believable that they would both be unwilling to allow their relationship to come to an end. This is more than a romance -this is a love story.

Thereís also a wonderful cast of supporting characters. Jocelynís younger brother Ferdinand and loquacious sister Angeline as well as an assortment of friends and foes add their own energy to the story. (It wouldnít come as a surprise to me if Ferdinand gets his own romance some day.) In addition, a few subplots are woven into the main plot that add depth to the story and character development.

Ordinarily, I wouldnít mention a scene near the end of the book for fear of spoiling the surprise, but I have to express my real gratification with the scene where Jocelyn neatly saves Jane from the ploys of her uncle and foils the earlís dastardly plots. (Well, you knew a happy ending was in the cards, didnít you?) Perhaps Jocelyn has good reason to be so arrogant. No one could have done it better!

I have learned to be trepidatious when one of my favorite romance authors makes the leap from paperback to hardback. Too often, it seems that the author changes style to appeal to a broader audience, and - even worse - too often Iíve found the hardback work to be of lesser quality than that in the paperback romances Iíve read and loved. Iím relieved and pleased to report to you that none of those concerns is realized in More Than a Mistress.

Mary Baloghís shift to hardback represents a long-deserved recognition of her rare talent. This is a great romance with great characters and a satisfying plot. It deserves every single one of those five hearts at the top of this review and is certain to gain the author an even wider following of devoted fans.

--Lesley Dunlap


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