Beauty in Black

Dear Imposter

Lady in Waiting

Robert's Lady

Widow in Scarlet

Vision in Blue by Nicole Byrd
(Berkley Sensation, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-20110-4
Nicole Byrd delivers up a fun two-fer with Vision in Blue the story of two young ladies whose paths cross on their way to London. The former mother-daughter writing team is now just mother Cheryl Zach, who kept the Nicole Byrd pseudonym and lives up to the fine reputation of previous books.

Gemma Smith has lived most of her life in a school for young ladies, after spending a few miserable years in a foundling home. Her school fees have been paid for, and she receives a modest quarterly allowance, but her parentage is a mystery. Who is her unknown benefactor? Then, after she turns twenty-one, Gemma’s solicitor delivers a clue – a letter, written by her mother twenty years earlier, informing her that she is the sister of Lord Gabriel Sinclair and that her mother will wish to meet her after she has reached her majority. Gemma immediately gathers her belongings and sets out for London to find Lord Sinclair.

Miss Louisa Crookshanks is also on her way to London, but her purpose is to experience a Season before marrying an old friend, Sir Lucas Englewood. Louisa is an heiress, and she has rented a house in Town. Her companion, Miss Pomranky, will chaperone, and Lucas has taken lodgings nearby. Louisa comes upon Gemma alone in a posting inn and the two strike up an immediate friendship. Louisa, intrigued by Gemma’s story, invites her to stay at the rented London house, an offer Gemma accepts.

Louisa bumps into Lieutenant Colin McGregor on her first day in London, and keeps bumping into him. The penniless officer makes no bones about needing to marry an heiress, but Louisa can’t help be attracted to him anyway, especially after he rescues her from several uncomfortable situations and does it with gentlemanly flair. Gemma, for her part, attempts to trace her past, starting with the foundling home. She’s turned away, but decides to sneak inside and look through the ledgers in the matron’s office for a clue. Captain Matthew Fallon, who is tracing the whereabouts of his younger sister, interrupts her subterfuge. They form a quick alliance, stealing the ledgers and vowing to help one another.

So the stage is set for two nice romances. Gemma is being halfheartedly pursued by an oafish country squire who is withholding a proposal until he finds out if Gemma is from a decent family or not. This is good enough for Gemma, until she meets the self-confident sea captain and finds out what she’s been missing. Louisa, for her part, is ignored more and more by her fiancé, who has taken the delights of London to heart – even the more unsavory ones. But can she allow herself to fall for a penniless ex-soldier?

It’s easy to root for both of these women. Gemma is more serious and introspective, and one might expect Louisa to be set up as a bit of a ninny as a foil for Gemma. Not so. Louisa is portrayed as kindhearted, slightly insecure, and a romantic at heart. She gladly takes Gemma under her wing, and allows Gemma to do the same for her. Readers will have no problem believing in their friendship. Which is a good thing, as much of the story turns on it.

The author stumbles twice, and both involve the ladies plunging headlong into dangerous situations. In the first, they need to be rescued from their own foolishness in a very bad part of London; in the second, Gemma undertakes a sixty-mile nighttime ride on horseback, reasoning that it will be fine since she had two riding lessons some years ago. This serves only to set up the final love scene. Oh, how I hate these contrivances! But the two women are so likable it’s quite easy to forgive them.

Colin and Matthew, thankfully, are strong, smart, stalwart types who don’t seem to mind females that show a bit of intelligence and spirit. Though Louisa is a bit intimidated by the ton, she’s no pushover. And Gemma, longing for a family and wondering if the truth will ever be known, is an absolute treat. Her personality all but leaps off the page.

Readers may be surprised that the author doesn’t entirely resolve the question of Gemma’s parentage, which is apparently intended to set up the next book. If it’s as well done as Vision in Blue, the wait will be worth every minute.

--Cathy Sova

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