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Lady Miranda's Masquerade
by Lynn Collum
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6208-7
***
The plot of an heiress fleeing an unwelcome marriage has been used, in one variation or another, in countless Regency romances. Lady Miranda's Masquerade is a mildly pleasant variation on this old theme.

Lady Miranda Henley has chosen to flee her stepbrother's home rather than fall in with his plans to marry the obnoxious Major Caldwell. The major is perfectly willing to pay well to marry the heiress. Miranda decides to go to her old governess now living in London. But her horse comes up lame and she finds herself having to make her way on foot, hiding from the pursuing Sylvester. As she crosses a road, she tangles with a carriage driven by "Lord" Julian Benton. (Note to American Regency authors: the younger sons of earls do not have courtesy titles).

Lord Julian is traveling home from Oxford, having gotten into still another scrape. He carries the now unconscious young woman with him into the bosom of his family.

The head of the family is Charles Benton, Earl of Crossfield. Charles came into his title and responsibilities at an early age and has always been a responsible and respected young man. When Julian arrives with the lovely victim of the accident, he immediately orders that she receive the best of care. Miranda remains unconscious for some time, and the countess' companion, looking for some kind of hint as to who she is, finds a letter addressed to Mary Hamilton in her bandbox. When Miranda comes to, she discovers that the Bentons have concluded that she is indeed Mary. She chooses not to correct them, for she fears that her stepbrother will find her.

Charles is perturbed when he learns that his lovely house guest is named Mary Hamilton. It seems that one of his good friends was royally cheated by a woman with that name who fits the description of the young woman in his guest room. He leaps to the conclusion that this Mary Hamilton may well be the same person who mistreated his friend.

To be honest, this seems like a weak reed to bear the weight of the story, especially since Miranda's behavior once she recovers is all that is genteel and since she demonstrates a great deal of good sense and seems to be a lady in every sense of the word. Certainly, Charles' mother finds no fault with her guest's actions. For his part, Charles is confused by his own reaction to the lovely "Mary." Does he keep finding errands for Julian because he fears his brother will become caught up in her wiles, or is he jealous of the time they spend together?

For her part, Miranda finds the earl most attractive, but she is confused by the disdain he sometimes directs towards her. She certainly feels guilty about the deception she is practicing, but feels she has no choice.

As I said at the outset, Lady Miranda's Masquerade is a mildly pleasant Regency romance. While Miranda is an interesting creation, most of the rest of the folks who people the story seem to be pretty much stock characters. I must admit that Charles, with his groundless suspicions, did not come across as a great romantic hero. I was never quite sure why Miranda fell in love with him, which is something of a problem in a love story.

If you are looking for a "mildly pleasant Regency romance," you might enjoy this book.

--Jean Mason


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