Wooing Miss Whately
by Meredith Bond
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-7593-6
**
This is the story of two people who fall in love, even though it’s not easy to understand why. Reading it was like watching a rhino fall in love with the wasp that’s buzzing around trying frantically to sting it.

“The great diplomat Sinclair Stratton, Fourth Viscount Reath” is in a hurry. He wants a “tiny little nobody” from America to give up her post chaise to him so he can continue with his urgent business. The little nobody is Miss Sara Whately, and when she refuses his demand, Reath is at first offended, and then amused.

“A woman immune to his charm!...Never had a female not given him exactly what he wanted when he had flashed her his smile. He wasn’t exactly sure whether it was his perfectly straight white teeth or the dimple that appeared in his cheek when he did it, but he just knew that it always worked. Until now.” (Am I the only one who thinks putting this observation in the hero’s point of view was not the ideal choice?)

Sara, whose father gave up his title and took his wife’s surname when he emigrated to America, is vocal in her disdain for the English nobility. She is on her way to visit her aunt, Lady Darlington, ostensibly to have a Season and hunt for a husband. Sara, however, is determined that, no matter how dire her family fortunes become, she will not marry for money. Instead, she will search the family estate for jewels rumored to have been hidden by her grandfather. Unfortunately, her thoughtless grandsire neglected to remove the valuable cache from its hiding place before losing the estate in a game of cards ten years ago to some callous young rake.

Reath’s urgent business, as it happens, has to do with the fact that he owns an estate he won from a gentleman ten years ago in a card game. He can no longer live with his conscience; he must return it to the rightful owner, if only he can find him. Lord Wynsham, the son of the man he won the estate from, moved to America and can’t be located. His flighty sister, Lady Darlington, will not answer Reath’s letters, and the man Reath has employed to find Lord Wynsham can find no evidence of anyone by that name anywhere in America.

Are you getting the impression that this story is full of Very Large Coincidences? Good, let’s move on.

In spite of the fact that both characters tell us immediately that their missions are Extremely Important, there are long stretches of the book in which nothing happens. Although he maneuvers to spend a great deal of time with Lady Darlington and Sara, Reath spends almost no time following up on their relationship with the man he seeks (too busy admiring the charm of his smile in the mirror, perhaps). There are so many clues, that only a half-wit would not have seen through the mystery, and “the great diplomat” is our man.

Sara, in the midst of a Season she insists she does not want, in the company of the man she constantly berates for his attempts to manage her life, is actually having such a good time that she forgets her father back in America may not have enough money for food. But we’re not to worry overmuch; he’s so absent minded he’s probably forgotten about eating, anyway. So much for urgency.

In fact, Sara spends most of her time telling off the aristocracy and fuming over Reath’s interference. Every time she lets him have it, though, she ends up having to apologize, because he’s invariably trying to save her from the consequences of her own ignorance. Fortunately, he is charmed by her rudeness, thinks her defensiveness is a sign of strength, and is fascinated by the fact that she seems to want nothing whatsoever to do with him.

Now that I think of it, maybe these two deserve each other. You, on the other hand, might want to think twice before you spend a lot of time with them.

-- Judi McKee


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