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Tiger by the Tail
by Casey Claybourne
(Berkley, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-16321-0
***
In Tiger by the Tail, Casey Claybourne has crafted the story of a stubborn, kindhearted heroine who desperately needs a temporary husband and decides to seek one at the county gaol. Little does she know she will get much more than she bargained for.

Melisande Mooresby is in a tough situation. Her grandfather controls her inheritance, and wishes to see Melisande wed before her younger sister, Eileen. Unfortunately, Eileen and her fiancÚ have already been intimate, and now there is a child on the way. Unless Melisande can come up with a bridegroom, and fast, Eileen will be disgraced and Melisande will lose her inheritance.

Melisande has no wish to marry, but she does have plans for her money. She wants to open a school of sorts to rehabilitate convicts, and she needs her inheritance to do it. Nor are suitors knocking down her door; in fact, she's been dubbed the "She-Devil of Mooresby Hall" by the locals for her temper. No matter. Melisande finds a suitable candidate for temporary husband at the local gaol, and he turns out to be Will Taggart, ex-privateer and all-around Scots good guy. Sort of.

Tossed into the pokey after a fight, Will wants to return to his family home in the Scottish Lowlands and rescue his father's whiskey distillery, but he needs cash to do it. When Melisande comes to him with her outrageous proposal, it's a way to get out of gaol. Then it's an intriguing possibility for getting his hands on some money. And before too long, it's a chance to create a partnership with a woman who is his match in wit and determination, not to mention passion.

The story bubbled along at a brisk pace, keeping me involved and turning pages eagerly. Melisande and Will aren't instantly attracted to each other, which was refreshing, and the secondary characters were interesting, although bordering on the precious. (Will has earned the nickname "Tiger" in his travels, and his friend and companion is named "Wildcat" MacInnes, a half-Indian/half-Scot. Do I smell a companion book coming?)

About two-thirds of the way through, things began to falter. Melisande can't resist butting into Will's personal business, with mixed results and a fair amount of exasperation on the part of this reader. And the climax is based on one of those "I've made up my mind and I'm not going to listen to you, I'm just going to run away shrieking in anger at your supposed betrayal" scenes. Since the author had presented Melisande as a fairly rational and clear-thinking person up to this point, this didn't work for me.

All in all, Tiger by the Tail was a mixed bag, though I'd lean towards recommending it for its fresh premise and crisp writing. Casey Claybourne has lots of talent, and hopefully her next book will feature a heroine of consistency.

--Cathy Sova


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