Crossed Quills by Carola Dunn
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-60007-6
Crossed Quills is an apt title for this charming Regency tale of two lovers with secrets in their pasts. Wynn Selworth has recently inherited a viscountcy, with an attendant fortune and country estate. With the title comes a seat in the House of Lords, and Wynn's desire to help the less fortunate may reach fruition, if only he can find a way to write a fiery speech. Wynn's hidden background as Valentine Dred, author of best-selling romantic novels, hasn't prepared him to pen the kind of inspiring prose needed to make his maiden speech a success. He needs someone like Prometheus.

Prometheus is the secret pen name of Miss Pippa Lisle, daughter of deceased MP Benjamin Lisle. Since his death, she has carried on her father's work, and his pen name, writing thoughtful and inspiring treatises on all sorts of societal ills. These have been widely published, though nobody knows who the new "Prometheus" is. Wynn travels to Pippa's home to see if he can convince widowed Mrs. Lisle to reveal the name of the man responsible for these writings, and hopefully enlist his help.

Mrs. Lisle is clever enough to see that here lies an opportunity to launch her daughters into Society. She convinces Pippa to help Wynn, anonymously. In return, she bargains with Wynn. Prometheus will help Wynn write his speech, and Wynn will help her two daughters, Pippa and Kitty, by introducing them to various people during the upcoming Season. For Pippa, this is the height of humiliation. She already had one Season in which she didn't "take", and besides, she is far more intrigued by Wynn than she should be. For her sister's sake, however, Pippa agrees and the three ladies are soon ensconced in the London house of Wynn's sister, who is an old acquaintance of Pippa's from that long-ago Season.

So here we have a fine muddle. Pippa and Wynn, each with a background in writing the types of material that would cause Society to scorn them. Drawn to each other, and afraid to reveal the truth. Interestingly, the author doesn't wait until the end of the story to Reveal All. Instead, she chose to craft the plot around what might happen if these two did learn the truth, and still needed each other's help.

One of the biggest charms of the book was the description of the characters. Wynn is not particularly tall, and his hair always looks like a windblown haystack. After so many years of living on his writing income, the viscountcy and the money mean little, and his cuffs are slightly frayed, his boots somewhat scuffed. He doesn't notice. Pippa is dark and slight, with an interesting face but no great beauty, except to Wynn. Shopping is anathema to her and one gown is as good as the next. These two are drawn to each other on an intellectual level right from the start. And there is no greater seduction than that of two minds meeting and meshing. Being a Regency, there is little overt sexuality, but the underlying current is there, in spades.

Crossed Quills is a refreshing, intelligent Regency featuring two characters who are perfectly matched. This one is a delight, and comes with a strong recommendation.

--Cathy Sova

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