By Arrangement

By Design

By Possession

The Charmer

Lord of a Thousand Nights

The Protector

The Seducer

The Romantic by Madeline Hunter
(Bantam, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-553-58729-3
With a challenging plot and a compelling hero, Madeline Hunter has written a Regency historical that lives up to the power of her medieval stories.

Julian Hampton, trusted solicitor of many of the ton’s foremost families, is not interested in any of the eligible ladies lobbed at him by the well-intentioned matrons of his acquaintance. Unknown to them, the outwardly cool, reserved Julian has spent most of his adult life passionately, and hopelessly, in love with a woman he believes he can never have.

Julian is astonished, therefore, when the lady arrives unannounced on his doorstep, begging for his help. Again.

The first time Penelope needed the help of her family’s friend and solicitor, it was to free her from her marriage. Married young, at her mother’s behest, to the Earl of Glasbury, Pen soon found herself in a nightmare. The earl’s deviant sexual proclivities turned increasingly from his helpless slaves to his young wife and, after enduring for a time in shame and humiliation, Pen fled to Julian for help. Aided by some carefully worded blackmail, Julian persuaded the earl to agree to a separation. Pen would receive an allowance, and she would agree to live discreetly, doing nothing to bring ‘disrepute’ to the earl’s name.

But recently the earl has been in contact with Pen, who was living in Naples. The monster decided he wanted an heir, the notes became increasingly threatening, and Pen began to believe that she was in danger from her husband. She cannot return to the earl’s abuse, and fears that if she involves her brothers there will be bloodshed. So she turns for help to Julian, for his clear, dispassionate thinking and utter integrity.

Keeping his true feelings for Penelope firmly under wraps, as he always has, Julian agrees to help her. Not to flee to America, which is her idea, but to re-negotiate a new separation from the earl or force him to seek a divorce.

I’ll admit right now that this book plays directly to a number of my weaknesses. First of all, I’m a sucker for the unrequited love scenario, and Julian is wonderful in the role. He’s a strong, intelligent, honorable man, and after years of trying to get over Pen, he has finally accepted that there is room for no other woman in his heart. She has no idea how he feels, and he steadfastly hides both his passionate feelings and his passionate outrage at the situation she’s been forced into.

He’s no doormat, but he is willing to sacrifice everything to ensure the happiness and safety of the woman he loves, even if she never knows why he’s doing it. Certainly, this book is appropriately named – Julian is a romantic in the grand tradition, a hero for the reader to sigh over.

Balancing Julian, Pen is considerably less of a paragon and slightly less vivid. While she has many excellent qualities, and has certainly suffered more than any young woman deserves at the hands of her revolting husband, it was Julian’s thoughts and actions that convinced me of his love for her, rather than hers.

At one point, Pen actually pulled one of those silly “I can take care of myself” stunts that some readers – myself included – find rather aggravating. When the heroine insists on ditching her protectors, even though it’s been repeatedly proved that she is in serious danger, it becomes difficult to have a high opinion of her intelligence. Fortunately, this state of affairs didn’t last too long and proved a minor aberration.

The plot was as compelling as the romance. Both are equally important to the story, and the author keeps turning up the heat in both areas, upping the stakes and never allowing the pace to drag. With every turn of the page, I only got more involved.

Julian and Pen’s relationship is as sensual as it is romantic, although I should probably mention that Pen does commit adultery, because I know this bothers some readers. There are also some disturbing descriptions of the earl’s depraved practices. For those of you who like your romance intelligent, intense, and even a little dark, however, I can recommend this book highly.

-- Judi McKee

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