A Rogue’s Wager by Valerie King
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-7482-4
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A Rogue’s Wager might have been a much more enjoyable read except for the seven-year-old Big Misunderstanding which drives the story and causes the leads to act like teenagers in a snit. Yes, here’s another one of those tales where all would be resolved in a moment if the hero and heroine sat down and held a decent conversation. Instead, the hero can’t tell the truth because he made a drunken wager over a horse and swore a Vow of Secrecy, which has to be one of the lamest plot devices ever used to keep a character from telling the truth. Much better to let it destroy his future happiness, of course, and if the hero and heroine are all too willing to be driven apart, so much the better.

Miss Harriet Godwyne is walking in the orchard as the story opens, knowing that she was “in her cups” at a party the night before and called the Earl of Connought an odious rogue, which he apparently took for a flirtation. This selfsame Earl is Harriet’s former fiancé. They were engaged for about twelve hours some seven years before, an engagement that ended when Harriet discovered Connought had kissed her cousin Margaret after proposing to Harriet. Not only did he kiss Margaret, but apparently Connought boasted of it because his friends all knew about it. Treacherous bounder!

Right away this story didn’t work. Harriet has her knickers in a knot over a simple kiss seven years earlier that she never bothered to verify or have explained. This is one kiss, mind you Well, maybe that’s proper Regency Miss behavior, if not much fun to read about. Yet she thinks nothing of getting drunk at a party and then getting snotty with an old flame. Not exactly proper behavior. So, what is she? The word “mature” doesn’t spring to mind. These two ought to swear off alcohol for life.

Anyway, Connought has never stopped loving Harriet, and he has made a bet with his friends that he can claim a kiss by noon after her behavior the night before. (Does this guy never learn?) Connought claims his kiss, which instantly inflames them both, but Harriet rebuffs him, leading him into a state of High Dudgeon in which he concludes

Even had it been within his power to reveal the circumstances which let up to the kiss, he doubted he would ever tell her - certainly not now, at least.

So there.

Connought and his layabout friends, Laurence and Charles, decide to make yet another wager, in which Connought must win Harriet’s heart within a week so he can then dump her flat. Harriet makes a wager with Margaret that she, Harriet, can acquire three personal items belonging to Connought. If she fails, she must marry him. Of course, this will require Harriet and Connought to spend quite a bit of time together.

As if the plot devices weren’t enough, Connought and Harriet are two of the most irritating, juvenile characters in recent memory. This book felt like nothing so much as a Regency High School Romp. Harriet likes Connought but doesn’t want to admit it because he was mean to her once and he probably cheated on her with her best friend. After all, everyone says so. Harriet is supposedly twenty-five, but acts sixteen. Whatever maturity she’s supposed to have gained in the past seven years didn’t come through.

Connought likes Harriet but doesn’t want to tell her the truth because she ought to trust him, dammit. And now he’s mad and won’t tell her anything anyway. The best friends alternately try to get the couple together and get in the way. Connought spends a lot of time anguishing over the fact that he can’t tell Harriet the truth, but rather than thinking his way out of this situation, he hangs around with his indolent friends, drinking and making stupid bets. By the middle of the book, I couldn’t have cared less what happened to any of these people. Even the villain felt mechanical.

Self-absorbed slackers aren’t fun to read about in any time period. Dressing them up in Regency clothing doesn’t make them any more appealing. A Rogue’s Wager may appeal to some, but my bet is that most readers can find better Regencies with which to pass their time.

--Cathy Sova


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