A Bargain With Fate
The Duke’s Mistress

The Viscount's Bride
by Ann Elizabeth Cree
(Harl. Historical, $5.50, G) ISBN 0-373-29356-9
In a follow up story to The Duke's Mistress, Cree gives us Chloe's story. Chloe has backbone and stubbornness to the extreme, as does the hero, Lord Salcombe. Their combined stubbornness weaken the tale when they refuse to talk and thus misunderstanding followed by misunderstanding gets in their way, even after Chloe has become The Viscount's Bride.

Chloe is the sister-in-law of Belle, the heroine in the earlier book, and has just completed her second season. She is wary of marriage, having been used by her dead brother (Belle's first husband) to make card wagers and swindle men for money. She is looking for comfort in marriage, not passion. She has chosen a titled gentleman, Preston Kentworth, who is rather dull. She even tries to learn about sheep and farming in order to have something to talk about with him. His mother favors Chloe and yet, Chloe is uncomfortable with her subterfuge. When her guardian shows up threatening to force her to marry a man much older than she is, Chloe starts to get desperate.

Brandt, Lord Salcombe, is a close friend to the duke, Belle's husband. He has just purchased a rundown estate that he plans to rebuild near the duke's estate. He and Chloe met in the previous novel and their history is one of mutual respect. Yet they also fight all the time. Chloe was told by her father that she is close to being a fallen woman (because of her brother's abuse) and she is leery of Brandt's charm. Brandt is attracted to Chloe and finds himself watching her. He is worried that he will have a terrible temper like his father, so he is determined not to show any passion. When he realizes Chloe is out to get her man, he becomes jealous and tries to intercede. He ends up betrothed to Chloe to keep her from a worse fate.

The tale really just gets started at this point, but unfortunately, the majority of the action is bickering, misconceptions that the two allow to be believed due to their fears, and then making up. This lasts for almost 200 pages, sinking the story into the world of predictability and convention. Many worn plotlines are used and they are easily seen well before they are actually center stage.

Lady Kentworth for some reason decides to force her son and Chloe into a compromising position and sends notes to trick them into a meeting. Chloe's friend, Emily, who has a secret yearning for Kentworth decides to intervene. She sends more notes and she ends up with Kentworth while Chloe ends up with Brandt. From the first note, the reader could guess what was going on and how it would end up. There wasn't even much mystery as to how it would all be arranged.

I enjoyed the hero and heroine, yet their stubbornness is their undoing. Brandt approaches Chloe with a proposal to wed, and she agrees. One offers that they don't have to love each other, and the other agrees, even though privately they are disagreeing. One suggests they kiss and despite a quite obvious passion, they immediately pull back and revert to acting like strangers. Two hundred pages of nothing but this constant parrying is about 150 pages too much. A few more side characters make their way into the tale but really serve little purpose.

Belle and her duke play key roles, so if you read the previous book, you may enjoy visiting them again. However, The Viscount's Bride suffers from predictability, misunderstandings galore and no real plot for what are actually two characters with potential.

--Shirley Lyons

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