Captain Jack's Woman

Devil's Bride

A Rake's Vow

Scandal's Bride

A Rogue’s Proposal
by Stephanie Laurens
(Avon, $6.50, R) ISBN 0-380-80569-3
In retrospect, I have a few problems with the motivations and the behavior of the heroine of Stephanie Laurens' new Regency historical, the fourth in her chronicle of the marital adventures of the six cousin Cynsters. But the fact is that these difficulties occurred to me only as I began to analyze the book. While I was reading the story, I was so caught up in the tale of Demon and Flick that rational thought took a back seat to enjoyment. Hence the four heart rating.

“Demon” Cynster (known improbably to his mother as Harry), has fled the fleshpots of London to his farm near Newmarket. This Cynster cousin has already made a name for himself as a horse breeder and racer. Imagine his surprise when he discovers that the warm-up rider on his prize Irish stallion is of the female persuasion. (His nearsighted trainer hadn’t noticed anything except the “lad’s” incredible riding skills.)

After chasing the impostor down, Demon discovers that she is none other than Felicity -- Flick -- Pargeter, the ward of his mentor, General Sir Gordon Caxton, whom he has known for at least ten years. Flick informs him that she has taken the position to try to ferret out the man who has led her cousin, the general’s son Dillon, astray into a race fixing scheme. She pleads with Demon to help her. Demon agrees at once, both because he owes the general a great deal and also because he wants to preserve the integrity of his sport.

Thus Demon, who has seen his brother and two cousins fall into the marriage trap but is convinced that he can avoid its snares, meets the one woman who is his perfect match. The outcome might be inevitable, but it’s lots of fun watching the show.

Demon is immediately attracted to this young woman who looks like a Botticelli Venus and rides like Willie Shoemaker. He has no illusions that theirs can be an illicit relationship. His honor and his debt to the general preclude that. In fact, Demon accepts the idea of marrying Flick more readily than she does. She has long admired Demon from afar and indeed discovers that her youthful infatuation has matured into love. But she wants him to love her the same way. And Demon, while he admits that he likes Flick and certainly lusts after her, is not a believer in the idea of love.

Laurens does a number of things very well in A Rogue’s Proposal. Her description of the Regency racing world and the problems that beset it made for interesting reading and enlivened the secondary plot as Demon and Flick try to discover who is rigging the races. If, in retrospect, some of Flick’s actions seem unlikely and dangerous, they were wholly in character.

Laurens also manages to credibly present a situation in which the love scenes deemed necessary for a Regency historical make a certain degree of sense. And let me tell you that the love scenes are great, as we’ve come to expect in a Laurens novel. Even the “I won’t marry him unless he really, truly loves me” aspect of the plot (not one of my favorite devices) worked surprisingly well. The doubts and fears that Flick feels when the scene shifts from the informal world of Newmarket to the strict world of the London ton with all its rules and constraints likewise add to the story. Seeing Demon is his other guise and discovering more about him raise still more doubts in Flick’s mind about their future.

We readers create innumerable difficulties for our authors. We want heroes who are dark and dangerous, but we want to believe that they will happily settle down when true love comes a calling. We want heroines who are strong and self-confident, and yet who are more or less true to the era in which they live. Not an easy assignment.

In A Rogue’s Proposal Laurens gives us what we want very nicely indeed.

--Jean Mason

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