The Misfit Marquess
by Teresa DesJardien
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-19835-2
***
The Misfit Marquess is an interesting book that just didn’t have that special something to lift it out of the average category. The hero and heroine were both unusual characters in unusual circumstances. But their romance never caught me up. Their interactions did not show me how they came to fall in love.

Elizabeth Hatton is fleeing from the man who betrayed her by pretending to marry her. As she rides through the night, she sees a brightly lit building ahead, only to realize that it is on fire. She rushes to the aid of a fleeing woman and in attempting to help the victim is victimized herself. Her horse is stolen and the thief runs over her, leaving her unconscious and injured.

Gideon Whitbury, Marquess of Grayleigh, arrives with his men to fight the fire. He discovers the body of the young woman in a ditch and assumes she is one of the fire’s victims. Since the burning building was the local insane asylum, he concludes that Elizabeth is an inmate. He takes her to his home to recover.

When Elizabeth regains consciousness, she is understandably befuddled. She recognized her rescuer. Lord Grayleigh is viewed as strange by the ton. In fact, he is called the “Mad Marquess.” His pale hair and pale eyes, his general disinterest in social activities, and his heredity (his mother was unbalanced) have won him this nickname.

Elizabeth realizes Grayleigh’s misapprehensions. Since she has a very good reason to avoid the scandal of her true situation from becoming known and since her injuries will prevent her from leaving Grayleigh’s house, she decides to pretend that she doesn’t know who she is and to go along with the idea that she is in fact suffering from a nervous disorder.

I really think the nature of Elizabeth’s deception poses the greatest problem in the book. While the reader comes to know and understand Elizabeth’s true nature, Grayleigh labors under the impression that she is insane. He has evidence to the contrary in her behavior, but he can’t know for sure, especially when she claims to have seen a red-haired woman in her room. One has to wonder why a man who was the primary caretaker of his unbalanced mother would fall in love with a woman who might be very much like her. (And if he does, one has to wonder about his own motivations.)

Grayleigh is clearly a caring man. He has taken into his employ a group of outcasts with no other place to go: a footman with missing fingers, a one-legged valet, a pregnant housemaid, etc. And yet, he distrusts his own motives and has feels trapped by the obligations he has assumed. Elizabeth’s presence in his home and his life is supposed to lead to a lightening of his spirits, but it was hard for me to see how this occurred. We were told it did, but we weren’t shown.

Elizabeth is a young woman who has made a big mistake for the most generous of motives. Her short “marriage” has opened to her the previously hidden joys of intimacy and she does wonder about her feelings for Grayleigh. Still, his appeal to her was more understandable given his kindness both to her and to the others in the household.

I must admit that the ending had a rushed feeling and depended too heavily on unlikely coincidence.

Thus, despite the fact that I found the hero and heroine interesting, the romance was less satisfactory. An acceptable Regency romance, but not one I can recommend.

--Jean Mason


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