The Scoundrel's Vow
by Sherri Browning
(Dell, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-440-23527-8
**
Calandra Locke is returning home after six years at a school for young ladies. Her father is the steward of Scarborough Park, home of Sir Scarborough Weston. Calandra has harbored a secret longing for Scar ever since she was a child. Now he'll have to see her as a fine lady. Calandra is confident that Scar will be in love with her in no time.

Calandra is greeted by the household staff -- and Scar, who appears unimpressed by her finery. She is given a room in the great house and is to be treated like a guest. Calandra decides she needs to get Scar's attention. After all, they were childhood friends, of a sort. Surely once he gets to know her as a lady, he'll fall in love with her.

Scar is bemused by Calandra's new appearance. He's intrigued by her looks, ad quickly finds himself lusting after her. But he has no intentions of marrying, and if he dallies with Calandra, he'd only leave her as he's left all the other women in his life. No. Better to try and find her a husband.

Meanwhile, Scar's vindictive Aunt Lenore shows up, determined to throw young beauties in front of him so that he'll marry and produce an heir. The pesky servant's daughter needs to be put in her place.

And that, unfortunately, is the sum total of the conflict in The Scoundrel's Vow. Calandra loves Scar. Scar lusts after Calandra but tells himself he won't marry. Aunt Lenore schemes.

It's not enough to carry the book.

What happens is that the same scenes are played out over and over and over, with little variation. Scar and Calandra go hunting. Then they play with the dogs. Then they go hunting again. Then they go fishing. Some pretty young miss shows up and Scar decides to pretend involvement so Calandra won't get her hopes up. Then he lusts after Calandra. Then another miss shows up. Scar decides to pretend….oh, you get the idea.

As characters go, neither Scar nor Calandra engaged my interest. Scar goes around proclaiming that he can't marry Calandra (god knows why, he never gives a reason) and will never marry anyone, for that matter. Then he makes an idiotic bet with his aunt, in which any marriage of his will hang on the merest of coincidences and anyone could be the bride.

Calandra is little better. Her modus operandus in getting Scar's attention is apparently to insult him whenever he's not paying proper attention to her, which is often. It doesn't come off as high-spirited or playful. It comes off as rude and immature. Other than a great bod and a smart mouth, this girl didn't have a lot going for her.

Add to this the unlikely premise that a servant's daughter would be treated as a lady of the house, and you have a first novel that doesn't stand up to heavy scrutiny.

Which is a shame, really, because Sherri Browning's technical skills are evident. The prose is clean and polished, the dialogue lively, and the settings detailed in just the right amount. I'd try her next book in a quick minute. I just hope there's a stronger plot to carry it. The Scoundrel's Vow didn't satisfy that requirement.

--Cathy Sova


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