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Testing Miss Toogood
by Stella Cameron
(Mira, $7.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-7783-2148-7
****
When a story grabs me from the first page, I know I am in for a treat. Testing Miss Toogood is an entertaining story full of life, good characters, a little intrigue, lots of witty give and take between characters and romance.

Dominic Elliott enjoys the life of the ton, but only when he has to. He wants to avoid the marriage mart but likes the entertainments that go with the parties. He and his brother Nathan are rogues but gentlemen. They are also involved in the side business of investigating crimes, although there was no real explanation as to why they were involved in this activity. Dominic used a disguise as Brother Juste and Nathan served as his driver and back up.

Right now, they are investigating a nefarious scheme by someone who has been kidnapping young girls, keeping them overnight while they blackmail the families into paying so that the scandal does not get out. The most recent victim is a maid of one young debutante, who got kidnapped by mistake when the young miss got cold feet at the last minute and decided not to meet a secret lover. Dominic is determined to find this rogue and bring him to justice.

But his mother, the Dowager Marchioness of Granville, has other ideas. She has agreed to bring the daughter of a parson and old friend to London and present her with a season. The hope is that she will marry and improve the lot of her family, especially her four other sisters. Fleur Toogood is a beauty just waiting to be discovered. But she is also sassy, independent and full of life. And she has vowed to marry only for love.

Dominic is coerced into being her protector and escort, but finds himself drawn to her, and she to him. When Fleur discovers Brother Juste, she is determined to help and try to keep Dominic safe. He does not appreciate the help. Nathan seems attracted to Fleur too, adding some complications. And Dominic is trying to act like he is helping find her a husband. Let the games begin!

There is no new ground broken here. Fleur is innocent yet worldly. She is smart yet nave. But she is fun and sensible which makes her believable. She thinks about things and has valid reasons for her actions, even if they don't turn out the way she wants. Dominic is your basic A type hero domineering yet gentle; macho yet easily swayed by his mother; tender yet manly. He fights his feelings to the end, but is willing to do the right thing too. It is when he is told no that he discovers his true feelings.

The pace of the story and the repartee between the characters is what moves the story. Cameron has written about people you want to know. The secondary characters are more than just caricatures. The other men who show interest in Fleur are nice men. Enough is written about Nathan to think there might be a feature story in his future.

The intrigue is the background to the story, as it should be. I was able to figure out the villain, primarily because there are not many choices. The ultimate conclusion is satisfying on one hand, but fairly predictable on the other. The motivation behind the crimes is a little weak when it is finally revealed.

Testing Miss Toogood is driven by the two main characters; a pair that is well matched. Their interactions are the story and it is fun to be a part of their fall into love.

-- Shirley Lyons


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