The Abduction of Julia
by Karen Hawkins
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-81071-9
****
Newcomer Karen Hawkins scores a hit with her debut book, The Abduction of Julia. This is a fast-paced, quirky tale of a plain woman who takes a daring step to change her life, and ends up finding love.

Alec MacLean, Viscount Hunterston, has less than two hours left to marry or he'll lose his inheritance. Abducting the lovely and headstrong Theresa Frant seems like a fine idea. They'll elope, he'll have himself a wife, live scandal-free for a year, claim his fortune, and all will be well. And since Theresa has not-so-subtly indicated her interest, it shouldn't be hard to convince her of the merits of this plan.

Alec's plans fall to pieces, however, when he finds he's kidnapped the wrong woman. Julia Frant, Therese's cousin, is an American popularly known as the "Frant Dragon" for her severe looks and stern demeanor. Since arriving in London four years earlier, she's had to chaperone the flighty Therese while finding fulfillment working with the Society for Wayward Women. Quite the dull prude is Miss Julia, or at least Alec thinks. He's astonished when she offers to marry him and solve both their dilemmas. All Alec has to do is marry the Earl of Covington's daughter. Julia's father was Earl -- for all of two days. Technically, she fits the bill. And so they make their pact.

Julia has a few tricks up her sleeve, though. She's admired Alec from afar for four years. Now she's his wife -- and half his inheritance is hers, if she can convince the trustees of the estate that their marriage is above reproach. But Julia refuses to give up her charity work. What will happen when it becomes known she's trying to rehabilitate London's prostitutes? And how can she and Alec maintain their marriage of convenience when they are falling in love with one another? Not to mention a dastardly relative who will seemingly stop at nothing to make sure that scandal does, indeed, invade their marriage.

Lively, spunky Julia is a delight. She's more than a match for the slightly spoiled Alec, a man who has never had to work to charm a woman before. Suddenly, his rakish smile isn't enough, and it drives him slightly mad. Nothing is more delicious than a rake who is outfoxed by a real woman, and Julia accomplishes this with ease. Alec doesn't know what to do. His usual charms get him nowhere, and Julia is singularly unimpressed by his normal male posturing. If he wants the real thing, he'll have to let her know the real Alec. I enjoyed this aspect of the story immensely.

As for their attraction to one another, it has plenty of spice. Again, Alec's frustration as he tries to figure out how to seduce his suddenly desirable, no-longer-plain wife is a fun comeuppance.

Julia's plan to rehabilitate the ladies of London's streets by training them to be house servants didn't entirely work for me. It seemed a bit far-fetched, and the pivotal subplot of a young actress who gives up her career to be a maid seemed unlikely. However, her presence leads to a very funny dinner scene, and for that alone I was willing to overlook my misgivings.

The Abduction of Julia is almost guaranteed to make you grin. Kudos to Karen Hawkins for a sparkling, original freshman effort, and this is one reader who'll be looking for her in the future.

--Cathy Sova


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