Portrait of My Heart

Where Roses Grow Wild

An Improper Proposal
by Patricia Cabot
(St. Martin's, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-312-97190-7
I began reading An Improper Proposal while sitting on my physician's examination table in a drafty paper gown waiting (and waiting) for her to arrive to begin my physical. Within moments of opening the cover, the sterile environment of twentieth century health care ceased to exist and I was transported to 1830's England, deposited into a world filled with swashbuckling pirates and adventures on the high seas.

The entire Dixon family -- of Dixon and Sons shipping empire -- have traveled to Daring Park for the unexpected wedding of their most celebrated ship captain, Connor Drake. Everyone is in high spirits for the event, except for the youngest Dixon, Payton.

Payton Dixon has spent her entire life aboard ship. Her mother died not long after Payton was born and the lack of a woman's influence has allowed her to experience the same unrestricted lifestyle as her three older brothers.

Suddenly, nothing in Payton’s life is going as planned. Not only is she forced to watch Connor, the man she has secretly loved for most of her life, marry another. But she has just learned that the captaincy of the Dixon’s newest ship the Constant, which she expected to receive upon reaching her nineteenth birthday, will not be hers. Simply because she is female. The command of the ship has been given to Connor as a wedding gift. If things weren't bad enough, she finds herself painfully stuffed into a corset and dress for the first time. Payton is not having a good day.

Things aren't going much better for the dashing Captain Drake. His marriage to stunning Becky Whitby is not the love match the guests believe. Now, after catching sight of Payton in a dress for the first time, he discovers his brotherly feelings for her have evolved into something quite different. Even after a torrid encounter in the garden, Connor tells Payton he has no choice but to marry Becky.

Payton is not so easily dissuaded. She has her suspicions concerning Becky's reasons for marrying Connor and it seems her intuition is proved correct when she spies Becky in a secret meeting with Dixon shipping's chief competitor, Sir Marcus Drake. Unfortunately, no one will listen to Payton's story and in desperation she blurts out the information in the middle of the wedding ceremony, just at the point when the cleric asks if anyone knows any reason the two should not be wed. Pandemonium erupts and Connor decides to take Becky to his ship and complete the ceremony in Nassau. A devastated Payton is left behind.

Not long after the ship's departure, word arrives that the Constant is being pursued by French pirate, Lucien La Fond, a cohort of Sir Marcus and the race is on to warn Connor of the impending danger. When a sea battle ensues, Payton stows on board the other ship in an attempt to rescue the captured Captain Drake from the pirates, as well as from the clutches of Becky Whitby.

This book contains all the elements that usually cause me to run in the opposite direction. Pirates, over the top tomboy heroines, humor that often borders on the slapstick. But to my surprise, I couldn't put it down. The only aspect of the story that did not work for me was the comic relief provided by Payton's older brothers. Their silly antics had me groaning in frustration, especially when they interrupted the interaction between Connor and Payton.

Patricia Cabot's considerable talent as a writer had me riveted from page one and in the character of Connor Drake, she has written a hero that simply took my breath away. If you enjoy lighthearted, steamy, high seas adventures, then I prescribe An Improper Proposal as the perfect book for you.

--Karen Lynch

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