A Fine Gentleman

A Prudent Match by Laura Matthews
(Signet Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-20070-5
A Prudent Match opens with a wedding. Prudence Stockworth is marrying William Ledbetter, Eighth Baron Ledbetter, and it is not a love match. Prudence's mild-mannered fiancé died in India, and Ledbetter has arranged a quick marriage via a special license. Readers will be left in the dark as to why this couple is marrying at all, until a few hints that Ledbetter needs Prudence's dowry begin to surface. And since Prudence has several younger sisters that are looking forward to a Season once she is out of the way, she calmly marries a man she hardly knows.

Ledbetter isn't entirely unhappy. Prudence is pretty, and while she occasionally looks at him with a bit of impatience, she's amiable enough and will probably do very well in the role of wife. Prudence thinks Ledbetter is good-looking, but he frightens her. He's so -- forcefully masculine that she freezes whenever he touches her. On their wedding night, she fakes an illness. Once arrived at Ledbetter's home, she pleads terror of the connubial act. Ledbetter agrees to leave her alone and let her get used to him.

And that, dear readers, is the sum total of the conflict.

The entire book revolves around Prudence being afraid to consummate her marriage, and Ledbetter being frustrated and hoping that maybe this night she'll change her mind. This might be entertaining in a book where sexual tension was allowed to build, but this couple has all the heat and excitement of a pair of rubber chickens. I read on and on hoping the story was going to get going, and by the middle of the book, the reality dawned -- there really was no story. Just Prudence, who came off like a ninnyhammer, and Ledbetter, who was dull beyond belief. Even the early hints that Prudence might have a bit of spunk (she looks at him with a flash of impatience; her veiled look seems to conceal secrets; etc.) go nowhere.

And by the time Prudence decides to get on with things, we're almost done with the book and Ledbetter's reaction seems downright ridiculous:

"Perhaps," she said, her voice halting, "I could come…to you tonight?"

Ledbetter's breath caught in his throat. What a remarkable woman she was!

Good grief. The man's been married for a month or so, his wife is a terrified virgin, and all he can think is that she's remarkable for finally agreeing to climb into his bed? So much for Ledbetter the forcefully masculine hero.

There is a subplot involving a church organ donated to a local church by Ledbetter's late mother and a man who might be Ledbetter's bastard half-brother, but these are minor and certainly not enough to carry the story.

It's hard to know what to say of a book that leaves a reader feeling she's read no book at all, just a rambling assortment of pages loosely connected by an irritating pair of lead characters who have virtually nothing going on in their lives. Regency lovers are worried that their favorite sub-genre is in trouble. A Prudent Match will do nothing to reassure them.

--Cathy Sova

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