His Wicked Will by Pat Cody
(Leisure, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-4791-8
Charles Norton, Viscount Chandler (ĎChaní) is a man on a mission. Sworn to help his best friend, the Duke of Ashcott (ĎAshí) regain his inheritance, he agrees to follow the woman who is responsible. When Ash spots her on the streets of Bath one day, he swears that the elusive woman in the blue spencer is Lucinda, his deceased fatherís mistress, the one responsible for defrauding the old man out of his fortune. Chan sets off after her since his friend Ash has a limp and cannot engage in the pursuit.

He very quickly discovers that the mysterious woman in blue is not Lucinda, but Elizabeth Merriman, prim, proper and bookish. She denies any knowledge of Lucinda, but why does she look so distressed at the mention of that name? Chan is immediately entranced by the enigmatic Miss Merriman, drawn to her beauty, and he is determined to discover what she is hiding. He senses that sheís hiding something, but what?

As the story unfolds, we find out the answer to that question, and to the mystery surrounding Elizabethís past and her connection to Lucinda. Chan persists until he has gotten the answers to his questions. He owes a life-long debt to his friend and means to repay it. Ash saved Chanís life and ended up with a permanently damaged leg and the limp as a result. Ever since then, the two have been inseparable and Chan will go to any length to help his friend, including barging his way into Elizabethís life and browbeating her into answering his questions.

Pat Cody has created an admirable heroine and an appealing hero. Chan is overbearing and enjoys the carefree life of any eligible bachelor of the ton, but heís also loyal to a fault and kind to Elizabethís addled old aunt. Itís hard for Elizabeth not to start recognizing that he isnít the thoughtless rake he appears to be. Elizabethís determination to make her own way is admirable and we sympathize with her, even if she seems rigid and unyielding at times. As we find out more about her painful past and the reasons for her determination to be independent, itís easier to like her.

However, in spite of an interesting plot premise and the likable couple, the story falls flat. One of the chief irritants is the character of Ash. He is selfish, self-centered and uses the past to manipulate his supposedly best friend Chan into obeying his every whim. Itís hard to figure out why Chan hasnít told him to take a hike ages ago. Ash crosses the line from mere selfishness to cruelty and itís hard to believe the final resolution when it happens.

Setting up the internal conflicts that Elizabeth and Chan need to overcome is important, but there are numerous long passages of internal monologue detailing Chanís attraction to Elizabeth and Elizabethís conflict over Chan. It hinders the story and lessens the sizzle between the two. His Wicked Will has far too many irrelevant details about buckskin pantaloons, chip bonnets and gilded chairs. Setting the scene is important, but when these descriptions weigh down the flow and pacing of the prose, it becomes merely irritating.

Having said all that, thereís a lot to keep Regency period historical fans happy. You may not put His Wicked Will on your keeper shelf, but if youíre looking for a pleasant, relaxing read, this book fits the bill.

--Tina Nigro

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