The Last Hellion

Miss Wonderful

Mr. Impossible

Lord Perfect by Loretta Chase
(Berkley, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-20888-5
Another perfectly delicious read from Loretta Chase – funny, charming, sexy and very entertaining.

Benedict Carsington, Viscount Rathbourne, is known as Lord Perfect for his exquisitely correct manners. Inculcated from birth with the strict rules of behavior that his father, the Earl of Hargate, considers essential for his heir, Benedict is quite possibly the flawless aristocrat – ostensibly the exact opposite of his irresponsible brother Rupert, who starred in last year’s marvelous Mr. Impossible.

Benedict is also in charge of his thirteen-year-old nephew, Peregrine, because Peregrine’s flighty parents are ill-equipped to deal with their highly intelligent and unconventional son. Benedict likes and understands the boy, and is willing to undertake his training and education.

One day, while Peregrine and Benedict are visiting an Egyptian exhibit, Peregrine has an altercation with a girl, Olivia, who objects violently to his observation that she can’t be a knight when she grows up. Olivia is the daughter of Bathsheba Wingate, the notorious widow of Jack, younger son of an earl. Jack was cast off by his family when he married one of the Dreadful DeLuceys.

Bathsheba has tried her best to rise above her family’s reputation and heritage but, to her consternation, Olivia is a Dreadful DeLucey through and through. Even as an adolescent, she is an accomplished liar and con artist with absolutely no sense of shame. Bathsheba ruefully informs Benedict that she’s tried several times to sell Olivia to the gypsies “but they wouldn’t take her.”

Bathsheba and Benedict are each privately dismayed by their dangerous attraction for each other and resolve to stay as far apart as possible. Unfortunately, their resolutions are shattered when their children run off together to find a treasure supposedly hidden by one of Olivia’s pirate forebears. Bathsheba must go after Olivia, and it would be rude and careless for Benedict to remain behind when Peregrine might be in danger (and Benedict is most certainly neither of those things).

Ms. Chase’s trademark vivid characters practically jump off the pages of this book, and it’s magic the way she makes their strengths and weaknesses play off each other. Benedict’s perpetual air of ennui hides a man who isn’t bored with life but rather with the monotonous correctness of his own existence. It finds a delightful outlet in an extremely dry sense of humor. It’s also his best weapon against the histrionics and ill behavior of the people around him, and he does not hesitate to use it to his own advantage. But he thinks adherence to the rules make him immune to temptation, so his education is a treat to watch.

Bathsheba, on the other hand, has been unfairly tarred by a family name that is synonymous with everything from scandal to crime. It is no small irony that society blamed her for her husband’s disgrace when she was the sensible one in the family. But much as she longs for normalcy and respectability, the blood of the DeLuceys does flow in Bathsheba’s veins. Her ability to use those skills to her advantage when necessary both bemuses and infuriates Benedict. The total result, as their pursuit of the children unfolds, creates a wonderful story of two people fighting a losing battle, first with physical attraction and then with love.

Even better, Peregrine and Olivia aren’t ‘ordinary’ children but charming and unique individuals. These characters are both crucial to the unfolding of the plot and wonderful foils to help reveal the characters of our hero and heroine. For example, Bathsheba clearly loves Olivia deeply – but is under no illusions whatsoever about her daughter’s character. In fact, Benedict’s ability to exert some control over the daughter might very well be the final quality that makes him irresistible to the mother.

It took Ms. Chase a whole book to do these characters justice – I can’t accomplish that here. All I can hope is that, when you’re finished reading the review, you’ll go out and read the book.

-- Judi McKee

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