Sweet Temptations by Lynn Collum, Wilma Counts & JoAnn Ferguson
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6656-2
****
Good food and romance! Is there a better combination anywhere? Zebra’s latest Regency anthology offers a tasty treat for fans of sweet love stories with cooking as a common thread. The three authors demonstrate considerable skill in bringing together the world below stairs with that above.

Lynn Collum’s entry, “Cakes, Kisses and Confusion” offers a tale of mistaken identity. John Burns, the new Earl of Sedgefield, finds his duties pretty tame after army life. Thus, when his aunt summons him to save his cousin from an unfortunate alliance with a young woman with a scheming mother, John agrees. As he approaches the cottage where Miss Annabelle Hill and her mother live, he is astonished when a lovely young woman accosts him from a small balcony and asks him to help her escape. He assents, convinced this escapade will convince his cousin to cut the connection.

Little does the earl realize that he is absconding with the wrong Miss Hill. This other Annabelle is in her aunt’s charge, but her aunt makes sure that her niece is hidden away so as not to compete with her cousin’s charms. Belle decides to flee from her intolerable situation and find a position as a cook, her one undoubted skill. She gets an unexpected chance to show her ability when the earl stops at a friend’s house, only to discover the whole place in an uproar because the cook has taken ill, along with most of the household. This is a pleasant story of how a mistaken identity combined with cooking skills leads to romance.

My favorite entry is Wilma Counts’ “The Way to a Man’s Heart” Nicole Beaufort, daughter of a dispossessed French comte, lives with her English mother’s family while her father pursues his profession as chef extraordinaire incommunicado. When Nicole expresses her disdain for English cooking, her cousin Edward challenges her to prove that she can do better by taking a position as cook in a gentleman’s household. Never one to back down from a challenge, Nicole does indeed find a place, in the kitchen of the Earl of Thornwood.

The earl, badly wounded at Waterloo, has driven away other cooks by refusing to eat “that swill.” Promising not to feed him swill, Nicole sets out to revive the earl’s appetite and to bully him into eating her cooking. Adam is shaken out of his lethargy by this most unusual cook. And while her food is good enough to tempt the most jaded palate, but Nicole forces Adam to come to terms with his losses and to face life again. The two become friends and perhaps something more. But what will happen when Nicole’s deception comes to light?

Counts is fast becoming one of my favorite Regency authors. She demonstrates in this novella her ability to create interesting characters and tell a good story, even in the shorter format. This story is worth keeping.

Jo Ann Ferguson’s story, “Not his Bread-and-Butter” was my least favorite of the three. Meredith Tynedale is a kitchen maid in the household of Percival Dunstan, Lord Westerly. Although her father is the grandson of a marquess and her mother is a lady, the family’s financial circumstances have forced her to go into service. Which is my biggest problem with the story, since the father does have a position and the family lives in some comfort. The idea that Meredith would be forced to take a position of kitchen maid, just about the lowest job in the household, simply didn’t make sense.

If one can get beyond this, then one will find that the new Lord Westerly is strangely attracted to his kitchen maid and, for her part, Meredith finds Percy most intriguing. But she is a good girl, and rejects the idea that she should pursue the only kind of relationship possible between a servant and a lord. How this all works out strains logic just a bit.

Still the Collum story was enjoyable and the Counts tale was excellent. So all in all, I find Sweet Expectations a tasty read. And I really want to try the recipe for Belle’s cheesecake. It looks yummy.

--Jean Mason


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