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One Moonlit Night
by Samantha James
(Avon, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-380-78609-5
Some authors write such compelling and interesting stories that I am able to suspend disbelief and accept behavior and situations that I know are simply improbable. Samantha James is one such author. Even though the historian part of me knows the implausibility of the scenario, the romance lover becomes so engrossed in the tale of two (actually four) attractive and interesting characters that I become immersed in the story. One Moonlit Night is vintage James in this regard.

Some three decades before the story begins, James St. Bride, Earl of Ravenwood, seduced a lovely gypsy maiden. When she informed him that she was pregnant, he broke of the relationship; he wanted nothing to do with a gypsy brat. Madeleine was heartbroken and bitter. She cursed her false love, telling him that her child would be the only child he would ever have.

Now that son, Dominic St. Bride, is coming home to Ravenwood. His father is dead and, true to the gypsy curse, James had no other children. Dominic has been legitimated (an improbability), but though he has been given a gadjo education and is handsome and rich, he remains the "gypsy earl," a man who does not know where he belongs.

The staff of Ravenwood is agog over his arrival. What kind of master will the new earl be? One member of this staff is the newly hired housemaid, Olivia Sherwood. Olivia has good reason to dislike gypsies. A year earlier, her father, the vicar of the parish, had been murdered by a wandering gypsy and her sister Emily had been blinded in the incident. Olivia has taken the lowly post in the earl's household because she must support her sister and needs the good wages the earl must pay to attract staff.

One evening, after having to work late because of the nasty housekeeper's animosity, Olivia is almost struck by the earl's coach. And so the two meet on that moonlit night. Olivia finds the earl much less forbidding than she feared; Dominic is much struck by the beautiful and composed young woman.

Dominic is astounded to discover the next day that the woman whose manner and looks had so attracted him is a housemaid in his home. He seeks out her company because he senses in her something special, something that speaks to him. For her part, Olivia moves from distrust to acceptance to admiration to something else, feelings that she has never before experienced. And when Dominic insists that she visit a gypsy encampment with him to show her that his mother's people are not evil but rather merely different, the music and the atmosphere loosen both their inhibitions.

There are barriers to a happily ever after. There is Olivia's persistent suitor, her mistrust of Dominic's motives, and his own personal demons. And there is the pervasive animosity to the "gypsy" earl that permeates the neighborhood, which places both Olivia and Dominic in danger.

In addition to the primary romance, James provides a touching love story for Olivia's sister Emily and Andre, the young man she cannot see, but comes to love, not knowing that he is one of the gypsy band.

Dominic is a prototypical tortured hero, whose ambiguous birth and upbringing have left him desperately needing love. That he should find in the beautiful, brave and caring Olivia his soul mate is completely believable. Olivia's attraction to a man who is handsome, dashing and at the same time desperately lonely and needy is likewise perfectly comprehensible.

James knows how to create and sustain sexual tension and Olivia's gradual awakening to her own sensuality is described in a masterly fashion. Her style is a bit precious at times, but this does seem to fit with the tenor of the story.

All in all, One Moonlit Night is a completely satisfying romance.

--Jean Mason

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