Bound By Love

The Cad

The Challenge

The Choice

The Chance by Edith Layton
(Harper,$6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-101434-6
Edith Layton has a flair for crafting heroes who show more than a hint of vulnerability. That she always manages to make them attractively sympathetic without appearing weak is a tribute to her talents. In The Chance, she has perhaps created the most emotionally insecure hero of this series. One could imagine a heroine patting his shoulder comfortingly - as she is dragging him off to her bed.

Lord Raphael Dalton has no illusions about his attractiveness to women, or rather, his lack of it. His bright red hair and unremarkable face have not destined him for great success amid Londonís fashionable misses. Not that it has been much of an issue, since Rafe has been tied up with wartime activities. But now peace has descended, and Rafe finds himself enamored of Lady Annabelle, daughter of the Earl and Countess of Wylde. Annabelle, who loved his friend Damon Ryder and has not recovered from Damonís marriage to lovely Gilly (see The Choice).

Rafe is encouraged when Annabelle actually speaks to him at a party, and he quickly abandons his plans to visit Italy with his friend Drum. Instead, he returns to London, where he plans to quietly woo Annabelle and show her that, even though heís a second choice, heíd be a good choice as a husband. His plans are disrupted by the arrival of an old war chum who is returning from India and is ill. Rafe insists that Eric Ford and his sister, Brenna, must stay with him until Eric is strong enough to travel.

Rafe carries on with his pursuit of Annabelle, while Eric and Brenna quietly rest in his home. Brennaís dark, almost exotic beauty intrigues Rafe, as does her fine mind and sense of humor. But itís Annabelle he truly wants. Fate has other plans, however, and when Brenna is discovered in Rafeís home fresh from a bath, wrapped only in Ericís robe, itís assumed sheís a trollop. Rafeís trollop. Annabelle turns her back on Rafe, and with an innocent young womanís reputation at stake, Rafe does the only thing possible and offers marriage. Brenna refuses at first, but Annabelleís vindictiveness soon leaves her no choice.

Now the man who has always felt second-best is married to a second-best bride. Except she doesnít feel like second best. In fact, the more he gets to know her, the more she feels like the right choice all along. If only he can convince herÖ

The Chance offers reader the kind of slow romantic buildup that begins with friendship. From their first chess match, readers will find Brenna and Rafe to be ideally suited on a mental level. Her sharp wit challenges him and before long, he is quietly comparing Brenna to Annabelle and finding Annabelle lacking. If itís true that great sex starts in the mind, then Brenna and Rafe are destined to find much joy in each other as their friendship deepens into much more.

Brenna, like Rafe, has always seen herself as an ugly duckling. In a poignant twist, these are two people who truly cannot believe they are attractive to each other. Brennaís height and exotic dark looks are as unfashionable to the ton as Rafeís coppery hair. Yet these two find each other irresistible, and their dawning awareness of this sexual magnetism is tantalizing. The fire between them builds to a red-hot flame. When they finally ignite, their astonishment and joy is a delightful payoff.

There is a final showdown with Annabelle, as there must be, and the buildup to this final scene felt like it dragged on a bit. I knew it was coming and wanted Rafe to get on with it. And the book felt as though it ended a bit abruptly. Not that I feel every book needs an epilogue, but these two had worked hard to establish their love for each other and a peek into their future would have made the ending even more satisfying. But there are worse things than leaving a reader wanting more.

The Chance is a warm, engrossing tale and a worthy addition to any romance loverís bookshelf. Now, how to manage the wait for Drumís story?

--Cathy Sova

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