An Unlikely Alliance

Lord Freddie's First Love
by Patricia Bray
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6322-9
George Harold Arthur Pennington, Sixth Viscount Frederick, is not a ladies man. In fact, Lord Freddie has just proposed to his twelfth potential bride -- and been soundly rejected for the twelfth time. What's a fellow to do?

So begins the charming Lord Freddie's First Love, a Regency romance with amusing characters, a warmly endearing hero, and one weak plot point that prevents a wholehearted recommendation.

Lord Freddie returns to his family home for his younger sister's birthday party and to ponder his less-than-stellar love life. His mother natters at him to marry some young miss or another, and he'd be happy to -- if he could only find one who'd accept him. Freddie suspects that he may be intentionally proposing to women he knows will turn him down, but he's not quite ready to examine his reasoning too closely.

Then Anne Webster, a childhood friend and neighbor, returns to her father's home with a six-year-old boy in tow. Anne has been in Canada for seven years with her sister, but the sister and her father are both dead now. The estrangement between Anne and her late father reaches beyond the grave when all is left to the boy, Ian, with Anne as trustee.

The entire neighborhood immediately assumes that Ian is Anne's son and a bastard, therefore putting her beyond the pale. Freddie finds out the truth -- that Ian is actually Anne's nephew, conceived in an adulterous affair and adopted by Anne after her sister's death. Anne wants nothing more than to return to Canada with Ian, after she's settled the estate and sold the property.

Freddie finds that his sweet Anne is a beguiling woman now, and he is just as determined to make her stay. Better yet, he wants to marry her. Now all he needs to do is get Anne to agree. It will be an uphill battle. The townsfolk scorn her, his own mother heaps abuse on her head, and Anne defiantly refuses to explain, even though Ian already knows the truth about his mother.

And this was where this story stalled. Anne has no compelling reason not to explain Ian's presence, yet she refuses to do so. The reader is asked to accept that this misunderstanding is insurmountable, yet I found it difficult to get past. Both the sister and Anne's father are dead. There is no one to hurt by explaining that Ian is her nephew. The child's father is out of the picture (at least at first, and his appearance smacks of contrivance) so why not be upfront and save everyone a lot of trouble?

While Freddie was gently amusing at every turn, and downright heroic in his dealings with his harridan of a mother, Anne is so prickly toward him at first that it makes one wonder what he sees in her. She does soften, enough to make her likeable. And Ian was a natural.

The cover of this book may be one of the few Regencies that features a child as a focal point. Little red-haired Ian marches along, looking gleeful, front and center, and the backdrop is a village street, not some phony-looking garden or green vista. Delightful!

Lord Freddie's First Love will no doubt entertain many Regency fans. I'll look forward to Patricia Bray's next story.

--Cathy Sova

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