The Second Lady Emily
by Allison Lane
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-19518-3
****
3:30 a.m.! That's what time I finally turned my light out last night. Now granted, I didn't have to get up at the crack of dawn this morning, but still, a book must be pretty compelling to keep me up that late. There was something about Allison Lane's The Second Lady Emily that kept me turning the pages.

This is a combination Regency/mystery/time travel/ghost story. Cherlynn Cardington is in London to get over a nasty divorce and do research for the Regency romance she hopes to get published. While visiting Christie's she sees a list of titles and, on a lark, puts in a 10 bid for the right to call herself Marchioness of Broadbanks. To her amazement, she wins, is swept off to Buckingham Palace, invested with the title and British citizenship, and told to immediately make up a will to leave the title to someone else should she die.

This makes her very suspicious and she discovers what the readers already know: that in 1812 a gypsy girl laid an awful curse on the holders of the Broadbanks title. Since that time, some 81 members of the Villiers family have met an untimely death. The last of the Villiers now holds the title and when he dies, the marquessate will pass to the queen. Given the current problems of the monarchy, it's the last thing she needs. Hence the auction and the delight in finding an ignorant American on whom to foist the title and the curse.

Cherlynn, understandably, decides she has to find out more about this curse and so she visits the ancestral estate, now owned by the National Trust. While there she is pushed into a stone fireplace. When she comes to, she is no longer Cherlynn Cardington, but is Lady Emily Clifford who had died from a similar fall back in 1812.

Actually Lady Emily - like so many in those times died not from the fall itself but from the medical treatment she received in its aftermath. Cherlynn is wise enough to drive away the doctor and knowledgeable enough to order her own course of treatment so that this second Lady Emily does not die. And gradually Cherlynn realizes that she has been sent to 1812 by Emily's ghost to save her beloved Drew, the heir to the title and estates and to thus prevent the dreaded curse from ever being imposed.

So, we have here a many layered story that certainly kept this reader's interest. On the one hand, we have a time traveler, one who knows enough about Regency England to avoid the most grievous mistakes but who nevertheless sees the world through the eyes of a 20th century woman. We also have a paranormal story, as Cherlynn comes to inhabit the body of Lady Emily (and a much nicer body it is than the short, chubby body and nondescript features Cherlynn left behind.) Thus, those around her and especially Drew who loves Emily have to come to terms with a very different woman. (She claims amnesia to help her navigate her way through these dangerous waters.)

We have a mystery: why did Drew, who loved Emily and had gone to his father to seek permission to marry her, suddenly become betrothed to the noxious Fay and what did this have to do with Drew's brother's death? Finally, we have a gentle romance as Cherlynn comes to love Drew and he comes to appreciate the brighter, better read, more interesting, more assertive Emily. But, of course, Cherlynn knows that once she solves the problem, once she thwarts Fay, once she saves Drew, she will return to the 20th century and the old Emily will resume her body.

Lane weaves all these strands together in a seamless story that did a remarkably good job of combining all the disparate elements into an entertaining whole. So I recommend The Second Lady Emily to an equally disparate audience: to fans of Regencies, of time travels, of paranormals and of mysteries. Why not a five? Probably because with all that plot Lane didn't develop the romance as much as I would have liked. But any book that can keep me up till 3:30 in the morning should keep most romance readers nicely entertained.

--Jean Mason


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