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A Chance Encounter
by Emily Hendrickson
(Signet Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-19497-7
Following a carriage accident at his gate, Felicia Brook and her uncle have been sheltered at the country estate of William, Lord Chessyre. With his dying breath, Felicia's uncle informs her that she has been cheated. Felicia is mystified as to her uncle's meaning, but the reader quickly gets a clue. Upon her father's death, Felicia had been disinherited when her uncle succeeded to the title, and the destitute Felicia has become little more than an unpaid servant to his mean, spiteful family.

Chessyre is suspicious of Felicia because of the convenient coincidence of the accident, but he takes an immediate dislike to her disagreeable cousins and agrees that she would be better seeking a position rather than returning to their house. His aunt, Lady Emma, announces that Felicia is to be her companion (have you ever noticed how many elderly aunts seem to need companions?) even as Felicia's cousins are wondering who will run their house.

Lady Emma and Felicia go to London. Lady Emma has a long-time love, Lord Pelham, an explorer, whom she has decided she will now marry, but other ladies have taken an interest in her intended, and she solicits Felicia's help in bringing Pelham to the sticking point.

Lord Chessyre (described by Lady Emma as "so clever" which is fortunate because it certainly isn't apparent to the reader) follows them to London where he has his solicitor look into the will of Felicia's late father and is disturbed to see that Basil, Felicia's repellant cousin, has also come to London.

This plot seems fairly straight forward, doesn't it? Disinherited beauty, eligible titled lord, cryptic last words, spiteful relations it's not hard to see where this is going. But, oops! On the way to happily ever after, the plot takes a sudden turn, and the focus of the story becomes an amateur gothic theatrical production that Felicia becomes involved with to save Lady Emma's love from the clutches of another woman. This creates the opportunity to introduce a whole new cast of characters and a lot of less-than-scintillating dialogue:

"Felicia is going to be in the play, Aunt Emma," Stephen said from the doorway. "Chessyre, as well."

"That is something we must change. You see, he is simply not a William, and I have decreed we shall go by our first names," Anne Damer declared in decisive tones. "Was he ever called by any other name?"

"He was Will when a lad," Lady Emma said with a fond smile at her nephew. "He still is to many of us."

Lady Louisa came to stand by Stephen at that moment, causing a most speculative look to settle on Lady Emma's face. "I believe we have met, have we not?" she asked the lovely young woman, who stood close to Stephen as though on the most friendly terms.

"Indeed, Lady Emma," Lady Louisa said, crossing to dip a proper curtsy. "My mother is an acquaintance of yours, I believe. Lady Arden?"

"True, that she is."

I hadn't been really caught up in the story thus far, but at this point my interest really waned.

I know what I want in a heroine: strength, intelligence, principles, determination. The kind of heroine who would grab her dying uncle and demand loudly, "What do you mean, I was cheated?" The kind of heroine who would tell her cousins they could hire a paid housekeeper or manage the place themselves. The kind of heroine who would launch an investigation into the truth behind her uncle's words rather than relying on an available man to do it.

Felicia is nothing like that. Put a "Welcome" sign on her and casual observers would mistake her for a doormat. She's perfectly willing for the "clever" Chessyre to do all the investigating. She's perfectly willing to be pushed into another's employ to further Lady Emma's long overdue romantic goals. She's sweet, she's meek, she's blah.

I pretty much want the same qualities in a hero that I do in a heroine. Chessyre's not my kind of a hero either. He's handsome, he's rich, he's blah. Together the two of them raise about as much heat as day-old toast. There's more romance between Lady Emma and Lord Pelham.

Perhaps if the author had her characters pursuing the mystery behind the dying words, this might have been a more interesting story. Perhaps.

--Lesley Dunlap

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