A Noble Heart by Sara Blayne
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6653-8
A Noble Heart is the fifth book (I think!) in Sara Blayne’s series detailing the lives and loves of the Powell family, children of the Earl and Countess of Bancroft. Having successfully married off the four Powell daughters, Blayne now turns her attention to William Powell, Viscount Lethbridge, the eldest son and heir. While Blayne falls back on one of the old familiar plot devices of romance -- amnesia -- she nevertheless provides an entertaining tale of how a man can only recognize his true love when he can set aside all his preconceptions and start anew.

Will Powell wakes up one day with a splitting headache and an overall feeling of general weakness. A lovely young woman marches into his room and berates him for his foolish behavior in putting his life in danger. Obviously, the woman knows him very well, but Will soon admits that he has no idea who she is or who he himself is, for that matter. Needless to say, Lady Felicity Talbot is taken aback.

In fact, Will had been wounded in a duel and brought to Felicity’s cottage in Kent by her brother and his best friend, Bertie. Since the fate of Will’s opponent remains uncertain, it is imperative that he remain hidden until it is clear whether the Marquess of Shelby will live or die. So Felicity concocts a story of Will’s having been wounded by a highwayman and having been brought to her for nursing because she is his cousin twice removed.

Felicity and Will are indeed distantly related, but the truth is that Lady Felicity has been in love with Will for years. However, Will persisted in seeing her as merely the little sister of his best friend. He had been pursuing Lady Zenoria, Felicity’s cousin who had been leading him a merry chase. Indeed, he had apparently fought the duel on Zenoria’s behalf.

Meeting and getting to know Felicity without a memory leads Will to a new appreciation of her beauty and character. He begins to court her in earnest. Felicity just knows that once his memory returns, he will want to go back to the selfish and unworthy Zenoria. Yet she can’t tell him the truth until he regains his strength and is out of danger.

Blayne adds excitement and adventure to her story by having Felicity engaged in trying to save a young woman from her brutal husband. Will inevitably gets involved in the effort to bring down the nasty Steed, which places him in still more danger to Felicity’s dismay. But his “noble heart” leads him to protect the weak and defend those in need.

Felicity and Will are both admirable characters, clearly made for each other. Despite other offers, Felicity refused to marry someone she didn’t love; her heart had been given to Will and she would not settle for second best. So she had carved out an independent and meaningful life for herself. She is clearly torn between accepting Will’s growing love and trying not to take advantage of his amnesiac state.

A Noble Heart is a most enjoyable Regency romance. It can certainly be read by those who have not followed the previous adventures of the Powell clan, since I have not read those books. And it did succeed in making me curious about the previous books in the series. I believe I shall look for the other “noble” books when next I visit a bookstore which is a good test of the success of the author in engaging a reader’s interest in her characters.

--Jean Mason

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