A Heart for the Taking

Love Be Mine

Lovers Forever

For Love Alone by Shirlee Busbee
(Warner, $6.50, R) ISBN: 0-446-60532-8
Have you ever found yourself reading a book that ought to be a compelling story and yet found your attention wandering? Have you ever met a heroine who ought to be quite interesting and yet found yourself not really caring that much about her? Have you ever encountered a hero who ought to very attractive and yet found yourself not that enthralled? If you have had any or all of the above experiences, then you know how I feel about Shirlee Busbee’s new Regency historical, For Love Alone. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why it took me days to get through this book.

The plot has real promise. While this is far from the first romance to have as the external conflict the pursuit of a French spy, the villain of this piece is as nasty a piece of work as one could ask for. Moreover, while we are often in his viewpoint as “the Fox,” Busbee succeeds in sustaining the mystery of his identity almost to the end.

The heroine, Sophy Marlowe, is a strong woman. Married at seventeen to a debauched marquess, she suffered greatly at his hands but found the determination to refuse him her bed and thus his desired heir. When he is found dead at the foot of the steps in their country estate, there are those who suspect that Sophy may have been responsible. But the reader knows that the real culprit is our villain.

Four years later, Sophy, now twenty-five, returns to London with her brother and sister. Her beauty draws much attention, but Sophy spurns all suitors. Her marriage was so dreadful that she has vowed never to marry again except for love alone. Then she meets Ives, Viscount Harrington.

Ives is a fine romance hero. A former soldier, he has unexpectedly ascended to his family’s title after his uncle, two cousins, and father die in a sailing accident. He is looking for a wife to secure the succession, but finds most of the young misses, well, young. Then he sees Sophy Marlowe. Despite the fact that she is the daughter of the woman he blames for his beloved older brother’s suicide, he is smitten.

Ives pursuit of Sophy takes on added urgency when Ives is recruited by his godfather to try to run “the Fox” to ground. It turns out that the spy may well have been responsible for his family’s “accident.” Since two of the prime suspects are former associates of Sophy’s husband and since these dissolute fellows hover around her, spending time with Sophy serves two purposes.

Sophy nearly falls prey to “the Fox’s” machinations as he tries to frame her for her uncle’s death. But Ives steps in to save her, insisting that the two must marry to protect her reputation. It is obvious to the reader that the key to “the Fox’s” identity rests with a ruby tie pin that Sophy found at the top of the stairs where her husband died. The uncle had identified the pin’s owner and obviously had tried to blackmail the villain. But it takes our hero quite a while longer to figure out this fact.

Instead, Ives formulates a complex plan to smoke out the spy and, to keep an eye on the suspects, takes up with Sophy’s husband’s dissolute friends. This causes Sophy no end of concern. Has she married another Simon? Add to this her fear of sexual relations and her discovery of Ives’ previous vow to gain revenge against her mother, and you have the ingredients for a complex internal conflict. If it has some characteristics of the dreaded “big misunderstanding,” at least there are good reasons for most of the conflict.

It occurs to me that in order to make sense of this novel, I have had to discuss plot developments that extend beyond the usual one-third of the book, although I have avoided revealing anything not told on the back blurb. Perhaps I have pinpointed my problem with For Love Alone. Could it be that the story simply moves too slowly and thus its inability to hold my interest? I begin to suspect that such may be the case.

Shirlee Busbee is one of the grand dames of the romance genre. Her writing is very good, her characterizations both primary and secondary are well done, and her plot is interesting. Yet For Love Alone failed to engage my interest, failed to keep me turning the pages. I don’t think the fault is mine; I generally enjoy longer, more complex books. Thus, while I clearly recognize the strong points in this novel, I find that I cannot recommend it.

--Jean Mason

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