For All Eternity

A Perfect Scoundrel

 
Bewitched by Heather Cullman
(Signet, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-20229-5
****
Michael Vane, Duke of Sherrington, once the toast of the ton, is now a broken man. A particularly nasty case of the measles almost killed him, but instead he recovered, only to suffer from debilitating seizures. Ostracized by the society that once lauded him, he has chosen a life of exile on his estate, Windgate Abbey, in the Dartmoor.

Emily Merriman has also chosen a life of exile after three disastrous courtships. All three of her fiancťs suffered from a curse that had been cast on Emily by a pair of jealous witches. Anxious to see his daughter wed, upon his death, Emilyís father stipulates that she leave Boston for England, where her grandmother will set about finding a suitable match.

Euphemia Merrimanís best friend happens to be Adeline Vane, Michaelís grandmother. Adeline, wishing to see her grandson well, and hoping to secure his title from the dastardly grand-nephew who is next in line, views marriage has Michaelís only chance. Deciding to kill two birds with one stone, the women decide to fix up their respective grandchildren.

Both Michael and Emily are less than keen on getting married, but their grandmothers really leave them no choice. The question is will they find true happiness amid Emilyís curse and Michaelís condition? Or will their mutual pride and fear keep them from discovering that they are a match made in heaven?

Tortured hero fans need look no further than Michael Vane, for Cullman has really outdone herself. Once the toast of proper English society, the humiliation he has come to experience as the result of his seizures, has left him a bitter man. Michael is a man whose pride is standing in the way of his coming to terms with his lot in life. Choosing to close himself off from the world, it is only Emilyís arrival and their marriage, that show him what he has truly been missing out on.

Emily is a determined beauty, with a compassionate nature and deep belief in the mystical. While Michael initially views her curse has nonsense, Emily fully believes in it. While she deeply cares for Michael, she knows that truly loving him, heart and soul, will bring nothing but disaster for the both of them.

Michaelís desire to be with his vivacious bride, and Emilyís compassion lead to an wonderful friendship between the two that is quite enjoyable to read. Thatís right - they become friends first, a refreshing change of pace from novels that pit the couple in an adversarial role, then as lovers. Michael and Emily come to care for each other as only friends can, and it is this friendship that ultimately leads to love.

While an enjoyable character study, I did find Bewitched just short of keeper status. Admittedly, I am a dialogue junkie. I like the main couple to spend lots of time together, and have lots of charming conversation. Understandably, Michael and Emily are quite wary of each other, and therefore for many pages there is little contact between the two. It is Michaelís loneliness that finally drives him to seek out Emilyís friendship, and itís not until this happens (about 100 pages in) that the book really started to hold my interest.

In addition, it takes some time for the conflict to really propel the story of forward. Michaelís illness and Emilyís curse simmer on the back burner for the majority of the novel, giving the author plenty of time to develop their relationship. Patient readers will eventually be rewarded, as the conflict does come to a head towards the last third of the story, while instant gratification readers will likely be frustrated.

While not fully enchanted with Cullmanís latest, it is hard not to be enchanted by her wonderfully drawn characters and the natural progression their relationship takes. The authorís skill as a writer is apparent from the first page, and while I was anxious for more dialogue, her descriptions of the setting, period, and Michaelís illness were a pleasure to read about. Bewitched is one of Signetís reduced price novels, and for readers hungry for a nice story with believable characters, I highly recommend they seek this title out. Special author, special price indeed.

--Wendy Crutcher


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