Betray Me Not by Michele Hauf
(Zebra, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-6679-1
***
Betray Me Not, the sequel to Tame Me Not, is a fairly enjoyable read. Taking place in 17th century France during the reign of Jean-Baptiste Colbert - the man history credits as the true power behind "The Sun King" (Louis XIV) - this romance stays true to the time period and is very well researched.

Madeleine de Pellison is forced by Nicholas Fouquet (Colbert's chief rival) to spy on Armand Saint-Sylvestre, a man Fouquet knows is spying on him but doesn't yet know why. The way Fouquet places Madeleine in Armand's confidence is by staging a sham marriage to him: Fouquet has Madeleine seduce Armand back to her apartment during a ball, then just as things get hot between them, her "papa" happens in, catches his "daughter" being compromised, and forces Armand to the altar. Madeleine agrees to the charade under threat of losing her inheritance, but soon finds herself falling in love with her charming, handsome husband.

Armnd Saint-Sylvestre is a former thief; until very recently his sole vocation had been seducing wealthy widows, robbing them of their hearts as well as their valuables, then disappearing into the night, never to be heard of again. Although he no longer steals jewels from wealthy widows, his former livelihood taught him all he needs to know to succeed in his new career as a spy for the crown. Jean-Baptiste Colbert suspects that Nicholas Fouquet is stealing funds from France and wants Armand to look into the matter, which he readily agrees to do.

While spying for Colbert, Armand attends a ball whereupon he meets a masqued lady determined to take him to her bed. Always up for a little tussle between the sheets, he follows her to her apartment and proceeds with his plans, only to be stopped by her father a few minutes later and shackled to the woman for life. Armand soon realizes that the beautiful Madeleine has an agenda of her own, but what it is, aside from stealing his heart, he cannot be certain...

Betray Me Not starts out humorously as the reader watches Armand get dragged to the altar. It's a shame Hauf didn't stick with the one-liners and witty dialogue exchanges throughout the entire book because she seems to have a knack for it. Once the humor ends and drama comes into play, it becomes harder to accept the story line at face value.

The most difficult aspect of the novel revolves around Armand and Madeleine's forced marriage. It seems unlikely at best and unfathomable at worst that a former highwayman and jewel thief (who is now a spy) could be coerced by a couple of puny men, swords or no, into speaking marriage vows. Armand's very existence depends upon his cunning and ability to get out of potentially dangerous situations. That he could be forced to the altar is hard to credit.

Another issue to consider before purchasing this book is whether or not you enjoy purple love scenes. If you do, this novel will be a godsend to you. If you do not, consider yourself forewarned. While speaking to one another, the hero and heroine both use phrases that are flowery enough to start a French "jardin" that could rival the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Madeleine, for instance, refers to Armand's kiss as "a harp string...[that] plucks me and sets my entire being to a throb." On the next page, his kiss is like "a leprechaun's pot that must be claimed."

Betray Me Not is otherwise an entertaining read. The plot is intricate and unfolds at a decent pace, and Hauf's historical accuracy is commendable. The next installment to this series is Enchant Me Not, due out in February 2001. The book will tell the story of Armand's brother Alexandre who is, ironically enough, a gardener.

--Tina Engler


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