All I Ever Needed
by Jo Goodman
(Zebra, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-7416-6
****
The third in the Compass Club series, All I Ever Needed is a slightly uneven tale, but one that keeps you coming back for more.

This is Eastís story and he is at the heart of it. Gabriel Whitney, Marquess of Eastlyn, is the tinker of the Compass Club, with his strength being negotiation. His work for his country now involves him in helping the East India Company establish trade with China. His job is to convince some opponents in the House of Lords to back the Prince in this endeavor. But he also has a personal dilemma. His most recent mistress, a widow named Mrs. Sawyer, has started a rumor that East is engaged to Lady Sophia Colley and he must deal with that. It seems one night he used Lady Sophia as an example of a woman he would least like to marry. Mrs. Sawyer started the rumor as revenge for Eastís lack of interest in her, thinking she was causing him harm.

In actuality, East is slightly intrigued by Lady Sophia and as he gets to know her, finds himself more and more attracted. Unfortunately for him, Lady Sophia turns down his offer of marriage, not once, but twice. When he discovers that she is on the periphery of his negotiation, they are thrown together and find they are mutually intrigued.

Lady Sophia is the daughter of the late Earl of Tremont. Her father was shot in a hunting accident and evidentially died of his wounds. His death was brought on more by his subsequent dependency on opium than the actual injury. He is survived by his cousin, Lord Tremont and his son, Lord Dunsmore. Sophia is taken into their home as a companion to Dunsmoreís wife and governess to his two children. They are broke and hope Sophie will make a marriage that will strengthen their coffers. This sudden engagement to Eastlyn fits their plans splendidly. They are not happy when Sophie declines to accept Eastís offer.

There is much to this tale, some of which is complicated and difficult to relay without giving away the ending. Suffice it to say that the negotiations that East is involved in, Sophie and her relatives and his feelings for Sophie all become entangled. While this whole storyline is slow to start, the pace picks up and provides a satisfying tale.

East is a strong hero who is not only handsome but ingenious. He is gentle when it calls for that, and he is commanding when there is that need. Yet, through it all, he shows respect for Sophie and acknowledges that she throws him off balance. I liked that trait in him.

Sophie is a good match for him. She wants to be independent and shows good sense when having to use her wits. She has endured much at the hands of her relatives, and yet, has developed her instincts for survival without compromising her feelings and sensibilities. Above all, she stands her ground when it is important, but isnít overly stubborn when she sees the rightness in following Eastís lead. She was refreshing.

As with many of Goodmanís books, she weaves the background into the story, without needing the first three chapters to set the stage. In this case, this causes the plot to be slow to develop. The slight confusion at the beginning, however, is easily overlooked by the depth of the conspiracy at the end. She neatly wraps up all the loose ends and does so without contrivance.

The glimpses into the other members of the Compass Club are fun and it is interesting how Goodman makes references to the other stories while keeping this story strong. It appears that these occurrences are happening at the same time as those relayed in Northís and Southís stories. Not everyone can pull this off, but Goodman does a good job of it. I look forward to Westís story, which is next on her agenda.

Overall, All I Ever Needed is a complex and appealing story about the romance between two people Iíd like to know. There is little more a reader can ask for.

--Shirley Lyons


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