Because of You

Falling In Love Again

Married in Haste

The Marriage Contract

A Scandalous Marriage
When Dreams Come True

You And No Other

The Wedding Wager by Cathy Maxwell
(Avon, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-380-81832-9
The heroine of this Regency-era historical thinks she’s intelligent, mature, shrewd, bold, independent and a woman of the world. I think she’s rude, dishonest, conceited, childish and petty. You judge.

Mary Gates dresses in men’s clothing, “can outswear the stable hands,” and has kept the family estate together since her father nearly ran it into the ground before his death. She is also passionate about horses, and has just outbid her neighbor, Tye Barlow, at auction for a stallion that will restore her family’s fortunes. With this superb animal she will breed winning racehorses and command astronomical stud fees. Happy days are here again.

Initially, Mary wasn’t going to bid on the horse, but changed her mind when she realized there was a very real danger that Tye would buy him. For his stable to outshine her own is unthinkable. After all, Tye’s grandfather was a mere head groom to Mary’s grandfather, the squire. In appreciation for some good deed, the groom was given a tract of land from the estate.

It was a gesture Mary’s grandfather apparently regretted and a feud was begun. The specific excuse for the disagreement is unclear, but Mary embraces the feud enthusiastically, apparently because it offers unlimited opportunities to be churlish to Tye and twit him over his lowly background. This is how she proves her maturity.

The owner of the horse is delighted because Mary and Tye’s fiercely competitive bidding created a hugely inflated price for the horse. Mary is very pleased with herself because “she’d won the horse fairly.” Not. She doesn’t have the money. She is sure, however, that the owner will understand because she simply must own this horse. This is how she proves her intelligence.

Tye, who has some idea of the state of the Gates family finances, approaches Mary and offers to pay for half the stallion. Each will breed their own mares to him, they will split the huge stud fees and everybody wins. In spite of the fact that this would solve all of Mary’s problems, she insolently rejects the idea. He lost, she won, nyah, nyah, nyah. And, incidentally, no way will his mares get anywhere near her stud. I’m guessing this is her shrewd business sense at work.

The horse’s owner is unsympathetic when he discovers that she bid on a horse she can’t pay for, so Mary quickly claims that she is secretly betrothed to a rich man who will hand over the entire sum. Then she goes to London and employs a matchmaker to find a rich husband who will hand over the entire sum. This, in spite of the fact that marriage to a Regency gentleman is not exactly the road to female independence, especially when it comes to things like breeches-wearing and vulgar trade and an interest in animal husbandry.

But Mary never, ever thinks before she speaks or acts.

Once in London, Mary deliberately thwarts every effort to turn her into the sort of lady a rich gentleman would marry and heap horses upon. She also runs away every time she finds herself in a situation she doesn’t like. Literally. Sometimes she just picks up her skirts and takes off down the street; once she took Tye’s horse and raced away on it. This is evidence of her bold nature.

Had enough?

In spite of this tiresome girl, the book actually has strengths. The conversations - if often too modern in tone for the period - are energetic and the descriptions vivid. Tye seems to be a really nice man but, in his place, I’d have thanked my stars for a lucky escape rather than chasing Mary to London and hanging around for more abuse. He keeps saying how much he enjoys their verbal sparring, but Mary doesn’t engage in witty banter, just small-minded insults and juvenile one-upmanship.

If I hadn’t been reviewing this book, I’d have put it down after page 60 and never looked back. In future, I beg the author to eschew obnoxious twits and find a subject worthy of her talents.

--Judi McKee

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