Ride for the Roses
by Christina Kingston
(Jove, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN: 0-515-12785-X
****
To the best of my knowledge, Ride for the Roses is Christina Kingston’s debut novel. If such is the case, fans of Regency historical romances should be smiling. This is an enjoyable story, nicely set against the world of racing. Kingston has created an unusual heroine and a dashing hero as well as an interesting plot centering on the heroine’s efforts to protect her orphaned niece and nephew from their nasty cousin.

The tale actually begins with an attempt on the life of Harry Wainwright, late of His Majesty’s army and now adapting to civilian life. Harry in renowned for his success with the ladies, so that when a shot crashes through the window where he is standing, he assumes it is an accident while his friends wonder if a jealous husband isn’t lurking about. That there is some threat to Harry is one of the important threads of the story.

Harry can’t resist kissing the sleeping woman he finds in the London inn parlor usually reserved for him. When Regina Landry wakes from her dreams, she is surprised to find a strange man embracing her. However, she handles the situation with considerable aplomb. Although the daughter of a viscount, Regina’s life has been far different from that of a typical gentlewoman.

Years earlier, she had committed the social solecism of eloping with her drawing master. Regina had not cared when her family cut her off; she had been very happy with her husband. But when Brandon died and the family still refused to assist her, Regina was forced to earn her own living. She did so in a most unladylike fashion. She became Lady Sybella Dashwood’s trainer, and the two women had become legends in the Irish racing world.

But now Regina has resigned her position and returned to London. Her brother Philip and his wife had died in an inn fire, leaving two young children. The family lawyer hopes that the court will give her custody of the children and the estate, rather than allowing them to fall into the clutches of the nearest male relative, the detestable Jasper Ruddleston.

This is only one of many problems facing Regina. Her brother had mortgaged the family property to buy a marvelous racehorse. The family’s neighbor, the elderly Earl of Taskford, held the mortgage. But the earl had also died in the inn fire. The new earl might not be so willing to not press for repayment. And yes, you have guessed it. The new earl is the self-same Harry Wainwright, who made Regina’s acquaintance in such an unusual fashion.

Thus, Regina faces a number of challenges and handles most of these with considerable skill, but Taskford’s advances are more difficult to deal with. She knows that her background and her chosen profession make her ineligible to become the earl’s countess. Yet, she needs a husband to insure that Jasper not gain custody of the children. Unwilling to allow Regina to waltz out of his life, Harry proposes that she train his horses in exchange for the mortgage.

Harry’s army buddies, who are staying with the new earl, are well aware of their friend’s true feelings, even if he is not. There is a delightful conspiracy on their part to smooth the path of true love. They are also determined to protect their friend from his unknown enemy.

In Ride for the Roses Christina Kingston handles the plot, the characterizations, and the romance with a confident hand. She even does a good job with the children. Phyllidia’s early antagonism and her gradual realization that her mother had been wrong about her aunt are nicely drawn. Regina is a wonderful heroine -- strong, confident, able to excel in a man’s world. Harry is a more familiar hero, a man who has to adjust both to peacetime and to his new position. That he fails to recognize his true feelings for Regina is perhaps not surprising.

All in all, Ride for the Roses is a most enjoyable Regency historical. This is an impressive debut and I look forward to many more fine books from Christina Kingston.

--Jean Mason


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