No Decent Gentleman

To Charm a Prince
by Patricia Grasso
(Zebra, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-8217-7472-7
To Charm A Prince is set in 1812 England and concerns an English miss, who grew up in poverty even though she was the daughter of an earl, and a Russian prince, who is estranged from his family. It is enjoyable, yet I felt uneasy about the hero, and this prompts me to tell you to think twice.

Samantha Douglas has not led a fairy tale life. Born into the Douglas family, she had a wonderful mother and two wonderful sisters. When she was only ten, the Emerson family swindled her father out of his fortune. During the struggle, Samantha was run over by a carriage and sustained a leg injury that left her with a limp. Her father turned to drinking and both parents then died. Her aunt Roxie raised her in a small cottage. Now years later (Samantha is 18), she is installed in the house of the Duke of Inverary, who has recently married her aunt. And her older sister Angelica has married the heir to the Duke.

Upon attending her first ball, Samantha meets Rudolf, a Russian Prince, who enchants her. He asks to call upon her, but never does. Six months later, she is betrothed to the heir of the Emersons, (yes, the same Emersons who ruined her family). On the night of her betrothal ball, Rudolf reappears and he and Samantha are kidnapped at gunpoint. It seems that Rudolf is a bastard, although he has been acknowledged as the heir. His younger brother has taken exception to this and wishes him dead. He is responsible for their kidnapping.

Using the wiles Samantha gained while poor (she became a pickpocket), they escape to Scotland, where they live at the Duke’s residence. Here they become intimate, even though marriage is not promised. The Prince has vowed never to marry again after his first wife rejected him when she discovered he was a bastard. Samantha feels her reputation is ruined anyway, and she is a cripple, so what the heck, she might as well live it up while she can.

There is much more to the story. Complications arise and misunderstanding after misunderstanding occurs. There are many scenes of angry exchanges between the two and although they claim to love the other in their hearts, neither tells the other. In between the anger are many scenes of sexual intimacy, as it seems only in bed can they show they love each other.

The writing is fast-paced and readable. The story moves and the actions of each character seem true to their thoughts. Unfortunately we are given more of an insight into Samantha than the Prince. Samantha is caring, loving and stubborn. She wants the world to be right as only a person who has suffered from a disability to want. Yet her self-esteem has suffered and she often succumbs to feeling sorry for herself. It is this that makes her less than a great heroine.

Rudolf is difficult to like. He is hard and often demanding. There are scenes where he throws his royal will around and gets angry when people do not just do things because he decreed. These orders at times border on humiliating and extremely rude. Samantha puts up with this, although she does get angry at him. She forgives way too easily for my comfort. At other times, Rudolf is kind and caring and wants to give her the world, because of the heartbreak she has known. Then he turns back into an angry, untrusting autocrat.

To Charm A Prince, therefore is an uneven reading experience. I liked it immensely in parts, and was charmed by the romance when the two were alone. Yet when they get back into the world, there is little to like about the Prince. This dislike makes it hard to understand why Samantha allows herself to be treated the way she is treated.

--Shirley Lyons

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