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The Clandestine Courtship

The Earl's Revenge

Lord Avery's Legacy

The Second Lady Emily

Too Many Matchmakers

Devall's Angel

The Unscrupulous Uncle

A Bird in Hand by Allison Lane
(Signet, $4.99, PG) ISBN: 0-451-19790-9
I was disappointed in Allison Lane's last Signet Regency. Since I count her among the most reliable Regency romance authors, I was a bit worried that she had lost her touch. I am happy to report that Lane is back on track and in A Bird in Hand has crafted an enjoyable story with a most interesting hero and heroine.

Randolph Catherwood, by courtesy Earl of Symington, is heir to the Duke of Whitfield. He is a rather ordinary looking fellow who detests London society and much prefers to spend his time overseeing the family estates and pursuing his hobby as bibliophile extraordinaire. But as the only son of an only son, it is clearly his responsibility to wed. His grandfather (feigning a more serious illness than is in fact the case) extorts a promise that Randolph will go to London for the season and choose a bride by its end. Or the duke offers an alternative. His best friend, now deceased, had a granddaughter who may well do for Randolph. So the duke suggests that Randolph take himself off to far Cumberland to take a look at Lady Elizabeth. As a cover, he can be seeming to examine a Chaucer manuscript that the duke might want to buy.

Lady Elizabeth Fosdale lives with her lovely younger sister, her unhappy mother and her miserly father far from the haunts of fashion. She has no desire to wed, having seen how miserably her father treats her mother. When she is informed by the earl that Lord Symington is coming and she is to make sure, by fair means or foul, that he marry her, she chooses to visit her aunt rather than fall in with her father's schemes. As she is returning home after what she believes will be a long enough interval to have seen the earl's arrival and departure, she runs into bad weather and the bank of the river collapses, sending her into a raging torrent.

Lady Elizabeth's timing was off. The earl had been delayed and is, in fact, approaching her home with his best friend, Lord Sedgewick Wylie, when he sees the young woman fall into the river. He jumps in to save her and the two are swept downstream. When they finally are able to reach shore, Randolph is hit be an errant branch. Elizabeth manages to get him to an empty cottage where she undresses the now unconscious man and saves him from dying of exposure. The next morning, she rejects his offer of matrimony, predicated on their having spend the night alone together and proceeds to her home.

There she discovers that the earl has just arrived, but in a most untimely fashion. His coach was struck by a tree in that same storm and the man is lying abed with a concussion and a broken arm. Obviously Sedge has been mistaken for Randolph.

When Randolph arrives at the Fosdale home, he recognizes the woman whom he saved and who saved him. He also discovers the case of mistaken identity. When Elizabeth's father discovers what happens, he decides to force a marriage. A bird in the hand anything to rid himself of his daughter. Randolph decides to persevere in the deception. Elizabeth has refused to be forced into marriage. He wonders whether he can woo and win her as just Mr. Randolph, without all the trappings of title and wealth.

Elizabeth and Randolph are clearly a well matched pair. But Elizabeth understandably rejects marriage, especially one forced by her unpleasant father. What will happen when Elizabeth, who gradually falls in love with Mr. Randolph, discovers the deception?

Randolph is a most interesting hero. He is bookish and a bit shy and retiring, but honorable and upright to the core. He begins by believing that he must marry Elizabeth to save her reputation and ends up wanting to marry her very much. Elizabeth is a most interesting heroine. In her mid-twenties, she is also bookish, but not shy and retiring. Rather she is determined to control her own destiny, not an easy task. She gradually comes to understand that marriage does not have to be a prison if there is a meeting of two minds, and her mind (and other things) certainly meets with Randolph.

If I had any problem with the book, it was with the secondary characters, especially the younger sister. Granted Cecilia dreamed of London and thought that marrying the earl would allow her to escape from her unhappy, limited existence, but I felt she fell in to readily with her father's deceitful plans I also felt that the father was just a tad bit overdrawn.

These minor points aside, A Bird in the Hand was a most enjoyable Regency romance. I am delighted that Allison Lane is back on track and do hope that we meet Randolph and Elizabeth again when she tells us Lord Sedgewick's story, as I very much hope she plans to do.

--Jean Mason

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