Fair Game by Diane Farr
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-19856-5
*****
Diane Farr’s debut Regency romance, The Nobody was a fine story, but her second book is a definite keeper. Imagine Gigi transported to Regency England and done much better. Better because in Fair Game we come to understand the dilemmas faced by women of less than respectable backgrounds who sincerely want to live decent lives but who find that society makes this almost impossible. Better because the characters’ emotions and feelings are beautifully portrayed. Better because both the heroine and hero are so likable and so right for each other. (OK, I admit it. I never liked Louis Jourdan that much, but I love Trevor Whitlach.)

Trevor Whitlach is a nabob. He has the Midas touch and has become extremely wealthy. He now hopes to translate his great wealth and his respectable birth into a position in the ton by marrying a titled lady. But first he has some unfinished business to take care of.

Eleven years earlier, Trevor had rescued the famous courtesan, La Giannetta from a French mob. She had repaid him by appropriating some rubies that she found on his ship, leaving the young Trevor having to explain their loss to his uncle. Now, he wants revenge, not so much because of the theft but because La Giannetta has ruined one of his friends.

La Giannetta is in big trouble. She doesn’t have the funds to pay Trevor back and fears his retribution. So she offers him not the rubies but her “greatest jewel,” her daughter Clarissa. Trevor takes one look at the beautiful dark haired, azure-eyed young woman who appears in La Giannetta’s drawing room and, to his own amazement, accepts the bargain. He simply must have this piece of perfection, although he doubts the mother’s claim that she is a virgin. How could a whore’s daughter be anything but a whore herself?

But, of course, appearances can be deceiving. Clarissa had lived most of her life at Miss Bathhurst’s School for Young Ladies, first as a student and then as a teacher. But when her benefactress died, the school’s new owners dismissed her without a character. She had nowhere to go but to her mother. La Giannetta had immediately seen that Clarissa’s face and form could become a valuable commodity. When her daughter had refused to cooperate in these plans for her future, she had locked her in the attic. Clarissa agreed to accompany Trevor as a way of escaping an intolerable situation.

Trevor takes Clarissa to his house outside of London. He soon realizes that her claims of innocence and her ladylike behavior are not pretensions but real. He also believes that her birth and beauty have left her with no option but to adopt the life of a grand courtesan. And he wants to be the man who introduces her to the pleasures of this life. But he will not force her. He wants her to come to him willingly.

Clarissa’s rejection of this fate is heartfelt and real. She has lived with the consequences of her mother’s profession. She would literally rather starve than embark upon this sordid career. But she finds herself strangely drawn to Trevor, whose intelligence, good humor, and yes, sense of honor, add a new emotional warmth to her life.

What I especially like about Fair Game is the marvelous way that Farr develops her characters. We watch Clarissa slowly emerge from her cold cocoon to become a warm and witty woman. We watch Trevor move from lust to something else which he does not really understand. Their relationship grows into something very special, but Clarissa’s birth and Trevor’s ambitions stand in the way of a mutually acceptable solution. We really believe in their love and we really wonder how the barriers to the happily ever after can be overcome.

Farr does what every good Regency author does: she takes the attitudes and realities of Regency society and uses them to craft a compelling and moving tale. Fair Game has the emotional intensity of Mary Balogh at her very best. I loved the hero, loved the heroine and loved the story. I think you will too.

--Jean Mason


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