Dear Imposter

Lady in Waiting

Robert's Lady

Widow in Scarlet by Nicole Byrd
(Berkley Sensation, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-19209-1
Widowed Lucy Contrain is in quite a bind. Her late husband managed to squander their money and run up a huge pile of bills, leaving Lucy with nothing but IOUs and one young, inexperienced servant girl. In the year since her husband’s death, Lucy has gradually sold off most of her valuables, including the furniture. The only option left seems to be indenturing herself to her horrid Cousin Wilhelmina, a first-degree harridan. She’s down to her last few pounds and about to lose her home when Nicholas Ramsey, Viscount Richmond, enters her life.

Nicholas believes that Lucy’s husband helped steal a valuable ruby called the Scarlet Widow that was meant for the Prince Regent. Nicholas has been discreetly searching for the jewel for a number of months and has turned up nothing. The Prince has commissioned Nicholas to find the thing before the newspapers get hold of the story and make a mockery of him for losing it. Lucy, however, will have none of Nicholas’ story, until she discovers there’s a five thousand pound reward for the return of the jewel. Seeing a way to rid herself of her debts, she agrees to help him and eventually insists on being in on every aspect of the search.

If faint alarm bells start ringing in readers’ heads, it’s with good reason. Lucy and Nicholas are attracted to one another, and the ruby is out there to be found. Meanwhile, there are others searching for the jewel, and Lucy seems to be the one who might know where it is. Her life is in danger. Nicholas must try to keep her safe.

That’s the basic outline of the plot. As an adventure/romance, it’s quite well structured and entertaining. A deepening air of menace hangs over the story, and as Nicholas and Lucy come closer to finding the Scarlet Widow, things heat up between them as well. Lucy and Nicholas are not youngsters, which made for a refreshing change. She has a dull, loveless marriage behind her and he has a painful past, as well, but they don’t wallow in self-pity. Instead, they combine their intelligence and become partners.

This would have been an unforgettable romance were it not for a couple of jarring elements. Lucy, as readers might fear with this type of story, has the annoying habit of insisting that she go along on every part of the investigation, even when it’s clear that she’ll only hamper Nicholas’ efforts and possibly get in the way, which is exactly what happens. The author tries to cover this by making the events turn out as if Lucy were some sort of important catalyst, but frankly, if she hadn’t been around, things would have turned out just as well, maybe better. Just once, I’d like to read a historical romance where the heroine admits she’d be better off staying out of the “sneaking into dark buildings in the middle of the night” business, rather than trying to come across as a Regency-era Charlie’s Angel.

Nicholas is a wonderful hero. He’s smart, kindhearted, and underhanded enough to send Lucy clothing and food when he knows she can’t refuse it. Eventually, Lucy ends up living in his house for safety’s sake. (Surprisingly, she never seems to consider that this might brand her as a lightskirt, which didn’t really work for me.) And their sexual interactions are plenty steamy.

These quibbles aside, Widow in Scarlet is an enjoyable Regency-era romance with a suspenseful, fast-paced subplot. The mother-daughter writing team of Nicole Byrd is gaining a reputation for quality historical romances, and their fans won’t be disappointed with this new offering.

--Cathy Sova

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