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By Love Undone

Taming Rafe by Suzanne Enoch
(Avon, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-380-79886-7
This one gets four big, wet, warm hearts and they all go to one of most charming and witty heroes this reviewer has fallen in love with in a long time. Heavy sigh. Rafe.

Rafael Michaelangelo Bancroft, the second son of a duke, has an adventurous spirit that has led him into battle with Wellington and on safari in Africa. At the moment, he wants nothing more than to leave London with enough blunt in his pockets to see China. What he gets, thanks to a lucky card game, is the deed to an estate in rural Cheshire. He hopes to sell the property to finance his trip. He's in for a big surprise.

Fortan Hall is literally falling apart. Rafe arrives only days after a brutal storm has caused the collapse of the entire west wing. But that's not his biggest problem. It seems the previous owner, a callous young fop named Nigel Harrington, has neglected to reveal that his two sisters are still in residence.

Felicity Harrington is no shrinking violet she's been caring for her 8-year-old sister May since the death of her parents years before. But when Nigel up and deserts them after firing the last servant, taking the last horse, and leaving her penniless, Felicity's good nature is sorely tested. Then the disarming Rafe shows up.

Felicity doesn't know whether to believe his claims of ownership, but Fortan Hall is all that stands between her and complete destitution. So she agrees to let the good-looking charmer stay on until ownership can be proven. Much to her surprise, Rafe pitches right in with the unenviable task of dismantling the decimated west wing and the equally unstable barn. He develops an instant rapport with the rambunctious young May, and endears himself to many of the local inhabitants through his hard work. Felicity hasn't got a chance in hell.

She falls for Rafe hard and fast, which doesn't sit well with the Earl of Deerhurst, Fortan's nearest neighbor and Felicity's ardent suitor. Rafe's instant dislike for the Earl is based more on instinct than his position as a rival for Felicity's affection. In that corner, the outcome is never in question.

Granted, this is a fairly standard plot as Regency romances go. What's different about Taming Rafe is its delightfully lighthearted tone and, will wonders never cease, a hero and heroine who actually talk to each other. There are no half-truths, no family secrets, no major hang-ups, no big misunderstandings.

When Deerhurst offers to buy Fortan Hall for an ungodly sum, Rafe doesn't keep it a secret. He tells Felicity and gets her opinion. These two act as true partners almost from the very beginning. And while neither one of them is perfect Rafe takes a little too long in discovering that after love comes marriage, and Felicity is a little obsessive in her fear that Rafe will take off for China their faults make them all the more loveable.

There is one fault that I'm sure Regency purists will be unable to tolerate, and that is the decidedly modern dialogue. With the exception of the few period swear words that May tosses off (to humorous effect I might add), the conversations are colloquial. They're also sharp, funny, and, once in a while, downright breathless. Truth be told there is a general disregard throughout the proceedings for adherence to the strict societal rules of the day, but again, it's something that shouldn't bother readers with less rigid tastes.

Those who do decide to give Taming Rafe a try will find a breezy, entertaining, sparkling romance that goes a long way towards reminding one that falling in love can be fun.

As for Rafe a wink and a smile wins my heart every time.

--Ann McGuire

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