The Best Intentions

The Bride Sale

Miss Lacey's Last Fling

Once a Dreamer

Once a Gentleman

Once a Scoundrel

Her Scandalous Affair

In the Thrill of the Night
by Candice Hern
(Signet Eclipse, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-21784-5
In the Thrill of the Night introduces the Merry Widows, five Regency-era ladies who run the Benevolent Widows Fund. At one of their meetings, Lady Gosforth announces that she has taken a lover and she highly recommends that the others do the same. After a bit of frank discussion, the ladies agree that it might be a good idea, since none of them wish to marry again and hand over control of their lives and their money to another man.

Marianne Nesbitt had a happy marriage to a childhood friend, and if there was little passion between her and David, well, Marianne doesn’t know it. Yet. The idea of taking a lover is secretly thrilling and she reasons that it will do no harm to explore the sensual side of life, since she has proven unlikely to bear any children. And who better to help her select a suitable man than David’s dearest friend, Adam Cazenove?

In the two years since David’s death, Adam and Marianne have become close friends and confidants. Displaying the worst possible timing, Adam announces that he’s become betrothed to Miss Clarissa Leighton-Blair, a pretty debutante. Marianne can hardly believe it. Not that she covets Adam for herself, but the two seem so ill-suited. Clarissa is a giggling, bubble-headed beauty, hardly a good match for the thoughtful, interesting Adam. But no matter. Adam can help her anyway.

Adam is astonished to find that he’s not keen on helping Marianne lure another man into her bed. Telling himself that he’s only looking out for her welfare, he contrives to drive first one, then another of her potential lovers away. When Marianne, Adam, and Clarissa end up at a country house-party, events occur that will force Adam and Marianne to confront the feelings between them.

Adam and Marianne are mature, rational characters who take their time shifting their view of each other from friendship to love. Along the way, they bicker, laugh, conspire, and assure themselves that they are only acting in the other’s best interest. This is a classic “friends falling in love” story and under Ms. Hern’s sure pen, it works very well.

The middle of the story sagged, however. After the initial setup, it’s a constant round of parties and balls where Adam sabotages other men’s interest in Marianne, over and over. Some of this was amusing; Adam, for instance, tells one would-be lover that Marianne’s late husband was known as “the Rod” and he hopes that any lover of hers will “measure up.” It seems to take quite a while to get to the inevitable house-party, but if readers can hang in there, it’s worth the wait. Adam’s machinations come back to haunt him in an unusual and clever way, and when Marianne finds out and decides to make him suffer – just a bit – it was quite a lot of fun to read.

The secondary characters are being set up for future books, I suppose, and at times the cast felt a bit crowded. I frankly couldn’t keep the widows straight other than a dowager duchess with a lascivious past and Adam’s rakish friend, Lord Rochfort, who was a wisecracking and unrepentant scamp and whose advice to Adam was blunt and spot-on. I hope he gets his own book.

Candice Hern can always be counted on to deliver a well-written story with enjoyable characters and a warm romance, and In the Thrill of the Night is no exception. I’ll enjoy finding out what the rest of the Merry Widows are up to.

--Cathy Sova

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