Lord Freddie's First Love

An Unlikely Alliance

The Irish Earl by Patricia Bray
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-821-76536-1
Lady Felicity Winterbourne, daughter of a duke and heiress to large fortune, is intrigued one night outside the theater when she witnesses a well-dressed man giving a sack of coins to a one-armed, begging soldier. Touched by this act of thoughtfulness, she is pleased to run into the stranger again at a party some weeks later. The object of her admiration is Gerald FitzDesmond, Lord Kilgarvan, an impoverished earl come to London to try and wed a rich debutante. Without an infusion of cash, his beloved estate will remain a ruin and his tenants will starve.

Felicity is impressed by Kilgarvan's devotion to his land and people, something she never had with her wandering, adventurous father. True, she's traveled in lands unimaginable to most London misses, but the price is a feeling of rootlessness, as though she has no real connection to any one place. Before she has time to examine her motives too closely, Felicity proposes to Kilgarvan. If it's a fortune he's after, why not hers? They come to a pragmatic arrangement. When Gerald leaves London for a few days without telling Felicity, she decides he's feckless. Is this a man to control her fortune? She decides to tie it up and not let him spend it without her approval, a maneuver Gerald deeply resents. But it's too late to back out. They are wed.

Soon the two are off to Dublin, where Gerald's mother resides. His attempts to leave Felicity behind fall on deaf ears, so Gerald takes the worst possible route to Kilgarvan in hopes that Felicity will give up and go back. Felicity, of course, handles the inconveniences easily. Once there, Gerald immerses himself in improvements to the estate while Felicity fumes. He resents having to ask her permission to use the money. She resents his aloofness. Will they ever trust one another?

More to the point, will the reader care? This one didn't. A promising plot premise soon fizzled into flat characterizations and a story line that went nowhere. The setup -- that Felicity wishes to control her fortune so Kilgarvan doesn't waste it like his father did -- is understandable. But the conflict of the book is weakly sustained by two people who refuse to talk to one another, one tired plot device. Felicity becomes more and more insistent on controlling her money. Gerald sulks and spends his days away on the estate. They spend a lot of time not communicating. Their infrequent bouts of connubial bliss take place behind closed doors, so we don't even see these two carried away by passion. And the reader is supposed to believe that these two are building a deep and abiding love in spite of all this stubborness? No way.

The Irish Earl is an unsatisfactory romance, all the more frustrating because it opens with such an interesting spark. I have a suspicion that Irish-set Regencies may be popping up all over this spring, but I can't recommend this one.

--Cathy Sova

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