An Independent Lady by Julia Byrne
(Harlequin, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-51153-1
I know this review of the final of the Harlequin Regencies is a bit late (ask me about my month), but I didnít want to ignore Julia Byrneís book. While I didnít enjoy it quite as much as the other three (see below), An Independent Lady is a most acceptable Regency romance. I hope that fans of the genre will still be able to find it at their local bookstore.

The Earl of Hawkbridge feels very protective of his grandmother. She has an unfortunate habit of taking up people who then take advantage of her. So when Marc discovers that the dowager countess has hired a new companion - a widow whom she met by chance - he decides that he must travel down to Hawkbridge manor and throw said companion out of the house.

Mrs. Amaris Chantry is, indeed, a woman of mystery. She is very young and she has secrets. But she is not taking advantage of her benefactress. Indeed, she is very protective of the countess and very useful to this sometimes flighty and sometimes wise lady. She feels immensely fortunate that Lady Hawkbridge rescued her when she fell in front of her carriage in Bath, for her case was indeed desperate.

When the earl arrives, she realizes that he might be a threat to her position. She also finds him as attractive as he is overbearing. Marc begins by suspecting Amyís motives. He also immediately filled with visions of Amy not in her prim if attractive gowns, but rather in more tantalizing garments. As he gets to know the young woman and watches her interact with his grandmother and the rest of his family, he becomes less suspicious about her intentions but more attracted to her person.

There is a lot to like about An Independent Lady. Certainly, the characters, both primary and secondary, are very well done. Marc is a prototypical Regency hero - proud, overbearing, but basically a good sort. Amy is an attractive heroine, a young woman who has had a very difficult life and who has made mistakes in trusting the wrong man, but who has remained true to her principles. She is wise beyond her years, but her wisdom was hard won.

Especially delightful are the secondary characters. The dowager countess is a wonderful creation. Yes, she is a bit flaky; yes, she has not always been a good judge of character. Yet she also has her shrewd side and has her own agenda. The rest of Marcís family - especially his niece and nephew - also are nicely drawn and add considerable interest and enjoyment to the story. The villains of the piece are suitably unpleasant and get their proper comeuppance.

Since I liked much of An Independent Lady, why do I find it quite acceptable rather than worthy of a simple recommendation? I have two slight problems. First, the romance starts with the kind of instant lust (on the heroís part) which is not my favorite basis for the love story. Second, I found the plot just a wee bit improbable.

Still, An Independent Lady has a lot going for it. As Iíve said before, I am delighted that Harlequin is offering these Regency romances to the American reader and I hope that they keep on coming.

--Jean Mason

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