My Lord Stranger by Eve Byron
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-80364-X
***
Do you like reunion stories? If so, then you might well like Eve Byron's latest Regency historical, My Lord Stranger. The hero and heroine marry at seventeen and then spend twelve years apart. Not surprisingly, they each change markedly during this time and must struggle to reestablish their relationship. Unfortunately, the causes of their long separation did not seem persuasive to me, which is why I found the book simply an acceptable romance.

Drew Sinclair and Harriet Saxon were childhood friends. Harriet's father and Drew's foster father were best of friends and neighbors. The fathers concoct a scheme to marry the two. Since Harriet will inherit her father's title and wealth in her own right, this marriage will serve a two-fold purpose. It will protect Harriet from fortune hunters and it will give Drew a place in society, something he has always longed for because of his ignorance about his real family and parentage. He is haunted by dark dreams from his past.

Drew is not particularly anxious to marry at the young age of seventeen. He loves Harry, as he calls her, but his own insecurities lead him to resist. He wants to find out where he comes from and he wants to make his own way in the world. Marrying an heiress and becoming her consort is not in his plans. But skinny, unprepossessing Harry is not a success during her first and only season and he doesn't want to hurt his dearest friend. So he agrees to the plan, with the understanding that he will then be free to take his trust fund and make his way in the world.

Twelve years later Drew finally returns to Saxon Hall. He has indeed made a fortune and he has indeed found out something about his parentage, something that appears rather discreditable. He has almost died in the vast American west and been out of contact with Harry for over two years.

He arrives at Saxon Hall to discover a fashionable ball underway. He searches the crowd, looking for his little friend. Instead he finds a lovely woman, the friend of Beau Brummel, a leader in society, and a very competent businesswoman who has served as his agent in England, unbeknownst to him.

For her part, Harry refused to believe the tales she had heard of Drew's death. But she does not recognize the tall, broad, tanned man who makes an unexpected appearance in her ballroom any more than Drew recognizes her. Her love for Drew has sustained her, but she doesn't know what to make of the man who has returned.

Byron does a good job with the relationship between these two strong people. Both the passion that ignites between them and the problems they face seem totally plausible. Harriet could have been that prototypical improbable heroine a woman with 20th century attitudes in Regency England. However, her position and her circumstances have conspired to create a woman who acts in an untraditional fashion while fully recognizing the uniqueness of her actions.

Drew's behavior at the beginning of the story, his insecurities, his desire to prove himself, his feelings that he is unworthy of marrying Harriet, all seem perfectly understandable. How many seventeen year olds demonstrate any degree of maturity or self-understanding? He is much improved when he returns to England.

Which brings me to my problems with the book: the marriage and Drew's departure. Why in the world would two level-headed men like Earl Saxon and Lord Sinclair insist that two seventeen-year-olds marry? Why would Lord Sinclair, who is portrayed as loving Drew like a real father, have permitted such a green young man to take to the road, even to the point of turning over a substantial fortune to him? More importantly, why would Lord Sinclair knowing Drew's insecurities about his origins not tell him the truth, since it would have allayed his fears and given him the confidence to stay home?

But of course, if Drew had stayed home, there would have been no "my lord stranger."

I found myself rewriting and reformulating the premise of this book to make it, in my mind at least, more probable. Yes, I understand that I am reading fiction and I am as willing as the next person to suspend disbelief. But I do require a modicum of plausibility in the premises that drive the plot. I found even that modicum lacking in My Lord Stranger.

If I could have ignored the set-up, I might well have been able to really enjoy the story. As I indicated above, I liked the hero and heroine and liked watching them come to terms with each other, despite roadblocks placed in their way by a conniving minx who wants Drew for herself. I am not warning against My Lord Protector but I am not recommending it either. If the problems I discerned don't concern you, then you might enjoy the book more than I did.

--Jean Mason

Note to Avon: Might it be possible for you to find artists who know something about human anatomy? I bow to no one in my fondness for hunks on the cover, but I do like them to look like real men. The guy on the cover of My Lord Stranger has muscles where nobody has muscles. And worse, he looks like he needs a wonderbra.


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