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The Wedding Ghost
by Cindy Holbrook
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-821-76217-6
***
Anna Winston and her younger sister Beth are on their way to a castle in Devonshire for Beth's wedding to Terrence. Beth is worried about meeting Terrence's brother the duke, a near recluse sometimes called the Ogre, and is fearful that the ghost will appear at her wedding. The ghost only appears at weddings when it knows that one party is unfaithful. That happened at the duke's wedding to Tiffany Templeton (Tiffany... in a Regency?). Anna reassures her sister that there are no such things as ghosts.

Anna and Beth are greeted by Terrence and his charming aunt Deirdre. Within moments they also meet Salome, the hysterical, overwrought, dim-witted, pregnant maid who seems to be about the only servant around.

Anna first glimpses Roark Seeton, the Duke of Wyndhaven when she literally runs into him in a stairwell, but he is mostly an absent host. The first night Anna is furious to see a costumed Roark in her bedroom. She believes that he is pretending to be Charles, the ghost, and she plays along. Eventually, she pursues him to another bedchamber where she sees Roark in bed. She realizes that she really has seen the ghost and moreover that he has locked her and Roark in his room.

Anna and Roark spend the night together and are discovered in the morning. Everyone is convinced that they must wed. Anna resists insisting they didn't do anything wrong.

It becomes apparent that Anna is the only one who can see and talk to the ghost (there's a cute scene where she's talking to the ghost and Roark simultaneously but Roark doesn't know the ghost is around). She becomes more and more interested in the ghost and the mystery surrounding him while wedding plans go forward and Deirdre's old love reenters her life.

Ordinarily, I'm not much of a fan of supernatural elements being introduced into a story, but in The Wedding Ghost Charles is the best thing in the book. It's too bad that Anna can't wind up with him.

Anna is an appealing character. She's well-read and no meek little miss willing to be ruled by society's expectations. The wonder is how she could have raised such a silly sister. When she's fascinated by star-gazing, it is obvious that the intelligent Anna is the right match for Roark. There is, however, no sensation that there is much heat generated by the two of them. There ought to be more reason for them to end up together than she's the heroine and he's a duke, but that is about all there is in this case.

Roark is the stereotypical rich, titled, handsome, wounded-by-love hero. There is little depth to his character. The only thing that distinguishes him from scores of other similar Regency heroes is his interest in astronomy.

Charles, however, has some spirit (pun intended). His scenes with Anna are more exciting than the ones she has with Roark. He is both comic relief and active participant in the story. In spite of Beth's overdone (way, way overdone) and irrational fear, he's no malevolent shade. Things perk up whenever Charles gets involved.

When it comes to unrealistic characters, Salome is far less believable than Charles. This is a ducal establishment, but no butler is answering the door, and no footmen are serving the aspic. Salome is doing it all. And shrieking and screaming and weeping and wailing and counting her rosary beads and breaking dishes and bemoaning her departed lover. She's enough to make a reader feel nostalgic for the poker-stiff butler who wouldn't crack a smile if his life depended o it.

The Wedding Ghost could more properly be termed a romp than a romance. The romance (or what little there is of it) gets swamped by everything else that's going on which includes, in addition to all the other things I've already mentioned, a spiteful other woman and a smarmy fortune-hunter.

If you're looking for light, easy entertainment, this might be a good choice. If you prefer a traditional Regency romance with believable characters and a plausible plot, this probably isn't the book for you.

--Lesley Dunlap


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