The Wedding Duel by Karen L. King
(Zebra, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-8217-7413-1
New author Karen L. King offers readers an interesting story with an unusual sub-plot in The Wedding Duel. Keene Davies finds himself in a duel with a friend, avenging the honor of an old flame named Amelia who is now married and the mother of an infant daughter - a daughter who arrived much too early and was probably sired by this very friend. Keene’s shot wounds his opponent. When Keene’s father gets wind of this, he’s enraged, and delivers an ultimatum. Keene will marry his cousin Sophie Farthing and get busy producing an heir, or lose his inheritance and face attempted murder charges.

Keene remembers Sophie as a tomboyish young girl who was given to running through the house and getting into trouble. When we first meet her, she’s climbing out a third-story window rather than face another unwanted suitor. But she’s loved Keene for years, and when he proposes, Sophie is delighted.

Keene approaches this union with determination and a bit of surprise at how nicely Sophie has turned out. His delight turns to ashes when Sophie’s father informs him that he fears Sophie may be pregnant with another man’s child. Sophie was overheard talking about her “fall from Grace”. She was spotted leaving a man’s bedroom. Now she is dizzy and losing her breakfast.

Keene actually does ask Sophie about this rumor (several times, in fact) and she instantly denies it. Rather than explain his suspicions, however, Keene chooses to believe she’s lying to him. For nearly two hundred pages

I suppose an early showdown would have been too good to be true. But oh, how I longed to encounter it in this book. I kept imagining Sophie: “Grace is a horse, you dolt. I fell from a horse.” Yes, this entire setup is contrived to the max. But Sophie spends the book mooning over Keene and trying to figure out ways to seduce him, while Keene decides he’ll nobly accept any child Sophie pops out. He won’t be like Amelia’s husband George, who won’t even look at his infant daughter.

Keene and Sophie were rather annoying, but the subplot of Amelia and her cuckolded husband certainly kept my interest. Kudos to the author for not shirking on this one. The baby really is sired by another man, and Amelia’s marriage is in serious trouble due to this single indiscretion a month before her marriage. Keene redeems himself a bit by bluntly telling George that he’s being a horse’s ass. The climax, which involves both couples, was particularly well done.

The Wedding Duel, with its strong sub-plot and weak main conflict, is an interesting mix. If you don’t mind very forced misunderstandings, it may well hit you in just the right way. Karen L. King has an intriguing voice and her writing is clean and fluff-free. A bit of stonger plotting, and she’ll end up on the keeper shelf.

--Cathy Sova

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