Love Only Once by Brenda K. Jernigan
(Zebra, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-7060-8
Reviewing has its ups and downs. The upside is finding books that one might otherwise have overlooked. The downside is being honor bound to read every page of a book that one would otherwise have discarded after chapter one. Reading Brenda Jerniganís confused and overwrought Love Only Once was a real downer.

Where to begin? Shall I start with the fact that the author makes many, many historical faux pas, has her characters talking like contemporary Americans, and has little or no grasp of the mores and behavior of the era of which she writes? These are all my personal pet peeves and, while I would not recommend a book with these particular characteristics, I would not necessarily tell others, ďDonít Bother.Ē

The reason I am warning so strongly against this book is that it has an improbable plot, unlikely and unlikable characters, and an underdeveloped romance. In short, it has nothing to recommend it.

Letís begin with the plot. Clearly, Love Only Once is a sequel to Jerniganís previous book, The Dukeís Lady. It is telling fact that I went searching through online reviews to try to discover exactly what had happened to set up this story. My research suggests that the earlier book is as unlikely as this one. Can you imagine an English duke who is spying for the Americans who rescues an amnesiac woman from a Cornwall beach who is the niece of the pirate Jean Lafitte who has a treasure map which the evil Captain Lee will do anything to get his hands on who then (the duke) heads off to Louisiana just in time for the Battle of New Orleans? I couldnít!

Anyway, all the above stuff at least made the opening scene of Love Only Once a wee bit more comprehensible - but not much. The hero, Jonathan Hird, Earl of Longdale and heir to the Marquess of Middlesex, is riding through the mist between the American and British forces as the Battle of New Orleans begins. Why? Well, he has to reach his friend Adam (the above duke) who is with the American forces. Why? Iím not at all sure. Needless to say, Jonathan becomes a target for both armies and is wounded. As he loses consciousness he thinks of the lovely Lady Elizabeth, the above Adamís sister, whom he has just recently realized he loves.

When he comes to, he is being treated by an American doctor with chloroform - in 1815? Adam and Elizabeth have arrived and refuse to let the doctor cut off his arm. They take him home to their house in New Orleans. Elizabeth has loved Jonathan all her life and, shortly before the battle, they had allowed their feelings to carry them away and had made love. This was a good thing, because while Adam and Jonathan were away with General Jackson, Elizabeth was kidnapped and raped by the evil Captain Lee. But at least she wasnít a virgin and knew what real lovemaking was like. Lee really wanted to get his hands on her sister-in-law, Jewel (who has become the dukeís lady) and her treasure map. Jewel exchanged herself for Elizabeth, but Captain Leeís plans were thwarted, although Jewel was wounded.

Now, I donít know if all this exciting stuff happened at the end of the last book or if it merely serves to set up this story. But you will note one fact: Jonathan and Elizabeth fall in love offstage, which is why I call the romance underdeveloped. Jonathan tries to break things off with Elizabeth because he canít use his left arm, but sheís not having any of that. So the two get engaged and plan on a quick wedding. But thereís this problem. Elizabeth keeps upchucking at inconvenient times. On her wedding day, she realizes that she is pregnant. Fearing that it is the child of the evil Captain Lee, she literally leaves Jonathan standing at the altar and flees back to England. Elizabeth has a penchant for fleeing.

Jonathan believes that she has decided she canít marry a cripple and, needless to say, is ticked off. That both Adam and Jewel know the truth but refuse to tell makes no sense at all. Jonathan decides that the only way to mend his broken heart is to go pirating with Jean Lafitte. Sure, thatís exactly what an English earl would do.

Two years later, he shows up on Adamís doorstep to say hi. Heís on his way back to England to comfort his ailing father. Adam, sly devil that he is, suggests that Jonathan take on the responsibility for finding a husband for Elizabeth and Jonathan agrees. Meanwhile. . .

No, no more. Another reviewer referred to Jerniganís previous book as a throwback to the romances of the 70s and early 80s. It would seem that Love Only Once has the same flavor. If the above partial description of the plot hasnít given you a pretty good idea of whatís wrong with Love Only Once, then maybe itís your kind book. It isnít mine.

--Jean Mason

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