The Captain's Courtship
by Kate Huntington
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6156-0
*****
The Regency romance is not dead! Not when it can attract talented new authors like Kate Huntington who can write delightful stories like The Captain's Courtship. I enjoyed this book so much that it may well end up on my Regency keeper shelf, along with the complete works of Mary Balogh, Carla Kelly, and Mary Jo Putney. That's how good I think this book is.

Our captain is Alexander Logan, Viscount Blakely, who is back in London having been wounded at Salamanca. As he waits in Chelsea Hospital to be transported to more comfortable surroundings, he encounters a lovely young woman who has come to give aid and succor to the injured men. Since the captain has imbibed quite a lot of rum to deaden the pain, he is not very polite to the young lady. When her mother arrives to drag her away from such an unsuitable place, Alexander concludes he will never see her again.

Several months later, Alexander, recovered from his wounds, is still in London. His father, the Earl of Stoneham, has used his considerable influence to prevent his only son and heir from returning to the war. Alexander is not very pleased with his father's interference. He feels duty-bound to return to his men. Instead, he finds himself dragged to social events where every eligible miss tries to gain the attention of the heroic (and rich) captain.

One evening at Almack's Alexander spies a familiar face across the room. It is the charitable miss from Chelsea Hospital. But the captain is soon informed that Miss Vanessa Whittaker is a gazetted fortune hunter and to steer clear.

Vanessa has come to London with the duty of finding a wealthy husband. Her father gambled away the family fortune and she has four younger sisters to establish. As the eldest and loveliest of the Whittaker girls, she knows what she must do. And should she forget for a moment, her pushy mother would soon remind her.

Encountering the obnoxious captain at Almacks (where she has not been made to feel welcome), Vanessa fails to show this very eligible catch the deference he is accustomed to. This immediately catches Alexander's attention. Subsequent meetings increase his interest, especially after he rescues her from a importunate former suitor. But when he comes to believe (falsely) that Vanessa is using their friendship to stave off her mother's creditors, he decides that he can use her as well.

Alexander wants to return to the army but his father is obdurate. So the captain devises a clever scheme. He will pretend to court the ineligible Vanessa until his father gives into his wishes just to save him from a mésalliance.

I'm sure you can guess the gist of the plot. The fake courtship comes to seem more and more real to the two people involved. But the fact remains that Vanessa is indeed, in the earl's eyes at least, completely unsuitable to be his son's wife.

This is certainly not the first time that a Regency author has used this plot. But what sets The Captain's Courtship apart is the skill with which Huntington tells her story, her creation of a cast of lively secondary characters, and her hero and heroine. Vanessa is wise and level-headed as well as lovely and charming. Alexander is a grandly dashing hero, whose gradual realization of his true feelings toward his faux betrothed is both well drawn and touching.

The Captain's Courtship is a first-rate Regency romance. It has more than a few humorous moments, but it also has a high level of emotional intensity. I predict that Kate Huntington will have a long and distinguished career as an author. I only hope she keeps on writing Regencies for a long, long time.

--Jean Mason


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