Always a Princess by Alice Chambers
(Leisure $4.99, R) ISBN 0-8439-486-7
***
Eve Stanhope, daughter of a prostitute, is posing as Princess Eugenia of Valdastock. Abused and mistreated by her so-called betters for most of her life, Eve has no qualms about lying to them about her identity or about stealing their jewels. It's all part of her grand scheme to get even with Archie, a gambling society rake who cost Eve not only her job but also her reputation. Eve's amateur thievery, however, is cutting in on the territory of the notorious Orchid Thief, who is none other than Philip Rosemont, Viscount Wesley

Philip, something of an outcast himself, pegs Eve for a fraud the moment he lays eyes on her. Still, he is drawn to someone who has the spirit to bamboozle the ton he finds so stifling and soon the two are partners in crime.

Philip is a decent hero, and he has a refreshingly good relationship with both his parents. About the worst thing he has to deal with on that front is a mother who is overly anxious to get him married. Philip is a second son who was free to travel and experience other cultures, cultures he found much more enjoyable than stuffy British society. Unfortunately, Philip finds himself forced to return home to fulfill his duty as heir when his older brother dies. To alleviate his boredom, he becomes the Orchid Thief. That's the sum of his bad behavior and in comparison to his other Romance brethren, it makes Philip a saint. Philip is never intentionally rude, never thumbs his nose at society just because he can and, best of all, doesn't whine about his lot in life.

Eve, though she can get a little militant about the whole class situation, is a good match for Philip. She's practical and independent, and she knows how to climb rooftops. Most attractive is her natural response to sensuality. Though she is a virgin, she isn't a shrinking violet waiting for her man to deflower her. She is an active partner in their mutual seduction.

One of the few problems I had with the book were that certain things are made needlessly complicated for plot purposes. For example, Eve needs the money but Philip knows she'll be too proud to accept assistance directly from him. Eve wants to sell a stolen diamond, but Philip does not. The practical answer here would be for Philip to tell Eve he sold the diamond and then just give her his share from his own pocket. This doesn't happen however, and Philip concocts an elaborate scheme to get Eve to live with his family.

The jewel thief concept was interesting, despite the fact that neither Philip nor Eve was actually any good at it. At one point Philip announces to Eve, quite obviously and in front of witnesses, that there is something spectacular she just must see in the study. Moments later a rare and famous jewel goes missing from, you guessed it, the study. Thankfully London society and the resident bumbling Inspector are too brain dead to notice the coincidence. Though the author tries to paint British society as self-absorbed sheep, it was a bit beyond belief that no one figured out the thief, or Eve's deception.

Although the end was tied up a little too neatly, Always a Princess was an enjoyable way to spend a few days. Chambers adds some unusual touches that raise the story above the average, especially the bathing scene. Washing your hair will never be the same again.

--Anne Bulin


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