A Country Flirtation

My Darling Bride

My Lady Mischief

A Poet's Touch

Vignette

 
A Christmas Masquerade
by Valerie King
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6305-9
***
I dearly wish that Valerie King had found some other premise upon which to base this generally charming Regency romance. The idea that a young woman would marry a man for a month to gain her inheritance with the expectation that after the terms of her uncle’s will were met, they would divorce just didn’t work for me. While King did not downplay the scandal that such an action would entail, she did not seem at all aware of how incredibly difficult such a course would be.

The hero, Viscount Villiers, had received a proposal that he marry the niece and heiress of one Mr. Cabot of Gloucestershire, a very rich man. In a moment of weakness, the viscount had agreed. Ten years earlier, when he reached his majority, his guardian and trustee, Sir Alan Redcliffe had sorrowfully informed him that his fortune had been lost to a series of bad investments. The young man had at first accepted Redcliffe’s explanation, but later, when rumors that Villiers himself had lost his fortune gambling began to circulate, he became suspicious that he had been the victim of fraud.

Unable to prove his suspicions, the viscount had made his way as a peripatetic guest and a shrewd gambler. He dreamed of restoring his fortune and his home. Mr. Cabot’s offer caught him in a moment of weakness and he agreed. But Villiers had always vowed never to marry for money, so he travels to Gloucestershire to inform uncle and niece that the deal is off.

As he rests in the local inn for the night, before visiting the Cabots, a lovely young woman enters the parlor. Laurentia Cabot is distraught. Her uncle had made the marriage proposal without her knowledge and, after his recent death, she discovered that she will not inherit his fortune until she has been married for a month. Her uncle’s friend, Sir Alan Redcliffe, has warned her about Villiers profligate ways and she is determined not to marry the viscount.

But what to do? She has long dreamed of using her inheritance to make life better for her neighbors. When she encounters the gentlemanly and charming Mr. Adolphus Swinfield in the inn’s parlor, she proposes a most audacious scheme. Would Mr. Swinfield please marry her and then agree to divorce her in a month’s time to save her from the horrible fate of wedding the dastardly Villiers?

Of course, the viscount plans to refuse until he realizes that Laurentia may be a target of Redcliffe’s greedy schemes. So it’s off to Gretna for the two, with a stop on the way to sign all the necessary papers at Laurentia’s solicitor’s office. Thus the “Christmas Masquerade.”

A reader couldn’t ask for a nicer hero and heroine than Thomas (he soon sheds the Adolphus) and Laurentia. And King does a fine job of showing how their original attraction to each other grows and develops into love. If Thomas seems almost too noble to be true in his behavior, well, this is after all a romance.

Still, my enjoyment of the characters and their love story was always colored by my problems with the premise. So I really can’t recommend A Christmas Masquerade. Readers with a greater capacity for suspending disbelief may well have a different response to the book.

--Jean Mason


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