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Capt. Jack's Woman

Devil's Bride

A Rake's Vow by Stephanie Laurens
(Avon, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-380-79457-8
Vane Cynster, cousin of the hero in Devil's Bride, the first book in the Bar Cynster series, takes shelter from a sudden storm (paralleling the opening scene of the earlier book) at his godmother Minnie's home. He spies Patience Debbington in the garden searching for a missing vase. As he accompanies her to the door in advance of the storm, they realize that they're strongly attracted to one another. Vane is quick to decide that Patience is going to succumb to temptation.

Minnie is relieved to have Vane arrive so unexpectedly. A ghostly Spectre has been seen haunting the corridors and grounds of her home, and a number of possessions have mysteriously gone missing. Besides Patience, Minnie's niece, and her brother Gerrard, an assortment of other vaguely connected relations who seem to have little or no financial means other than taking advantage of Minnie's good nature are also in residence. (Don't ask me why Minnie would willing support this lackluster ensemble.) Minnie cannot believe that any in her household could be responsible for these events, but she doesn't dare trust anyone beyond a certain select few.

Most of the idle household members are convinced that Gerrard must be behind the reprehensible deeds because these are "boys' tricks" and Gerrard is the youngest. Vane, however, observes that while Gerrard is young he is not irresponsible. Patience, who has raised her brother since her mother's death, is highly protective of him and anxious that he not be swayed by Vane's rakish appeal. Her parents' disastrous marriage and the subsequent neglect of the children have left her with a resolve to avoid "elegant gentlemen," and Vane is the epitome of an "elegant gentleman."

Eventually she comes to appreciate Vane's support of Gerrard against the others' accusations and to recognize that he is no shallow society wastrel. Nevertheless, even though they are both fiercely attracted, Patience is resolved not to follow in her mother's footsteps and contract a one-sided marriage. She may surrender to seduction (after all, she's in her mid-twenties and old enough to enjoy a discreet affair if she pleases and she does please), but she will not permit the attachment to extend to marriage.

Meanwhile, the mysterious happenings have escalated threatening their safety.

I've been awaiting this sequel ever since I read Devil's Bride I was eager to revisit this close family of dynamic men and spirited women whose sheer numbers indicate a lusty appreciation of the pleasures of marriage (to phrase it delicately).

The book is well-plotted and the mystery sufficiently enigmatic. In fact, the whodunit is much less obvious than in the first book. The sensuality is just as intense, and once again the hero is sure while the heroine is resistant. (A contrast to the many romances where the hero is bound and determined to avoid romantic involvement.) Still this story failed to capture my interest as powerfully as its predecessor, and the fault I believe lies with the characters and their motivation.

Most of the characters in A Rake's Vow are idle moochers with little or no ambition. (I can't help wondering if the author contemplated using the title Minnie and the Moochers.) Even the vigorous hero's motivation is obscure first he wants the heroine for a mistress, then he wants her for his wife. There didn't seem to be any explanation for this change in intention unless overcoming determined rejection is reason enough. And this is one heroine who can really say 'no.'

I'm not much impressed with heroes who take one look at the heroine and envision her in bed. Particularly when said heroine is the gently born niece of the hero's beloved godmother. I want a little more honorable character in my heroes than that. Vane certainly lives up to the standard of the active, dynamic Laurens hero he's no limp-wristed pantywaist like most the male household hangers-on.

But he lets the legendary Cynster temper flare whenever Patience say 'no.' (Which she does a lot.) A hero ought to have some reaction to the heroine's 'no' other than a temper tantrum. Okay, Patience's reason for her persistent negative reaction didn't impress me much, but she's got her reasons and she's sticking to her guns. I want the hero to respect that.

I also want the heroine to do more than embroider table runners. Yes, Patience is a devoted sister, and I'm sure that she's a delightful conversationalist and a true emotional support for dear old Aunt Minnie, but I wish she had a little more to do besides talking to her cat and plying her needle. I suppose that the author had to get Patience and Gerrard to Aunt Minnie's in order to meet Vane and for the mystery to proceed, but I wish she were visiting for a repairing lease after she'd accomplished some great endeavor than be just another passive household resident. Patience is a virtue, but a little energy and initiative aren't vices.

While I can recommend A Rake's Vow to readers, I have to confess that I was disappointed that it didn't achieve the same level of excellence of Devil's Bride. Ms. Laurens, however, is one of the best writers in the romance genre today her heroes are the stuff of dreams, and she's developed sexual tension to a fine art. Fans of her earlier books won't want to miss this one. Or the next one. An author's note at the end indicates that Richard's (Scandal) story is next. I'll be waiting.

--Lesley Dunlap

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