A Treasure To Hold
by Kathleen McCarthy
(Leisure, $5.99, G) ISBN 0-8439-5146-X
A Treasure To Hold is one of those stories that intrigue from the start and keep the reader interested to see how it will all come out. For me, however, the two main characters fell too often into patterns of behavior that left me unsatisfied. It is for the heroine, in particular, that I suggest readers think twice.

Isabelle Saint-Simon is a highbred young lady with her life before her. She accepts a marriage proposal from an experienced Lord and friend, whom her family readily accepts. But even as she accepts the proposal, she realizes she does not love him. Isabelle’s father is much more concerned with appearances than either she or her stepbrother, Reynaud Andrassy. In fact, he has kicked Reynaud out and told him to make something of himself.

From the time Isabelle came to live with Reynaud and his mother, she has gotten him out of scrapes, even though he was eight years older. Now he has come to her with a large problem. Isabelle only knows this through his note asking her to come to Paris to meet with him. Upon her arrival, (her trip being explained away as a shopping trip), she finds that Reynaud is missing. She also discovers that she is not the only one looking for him.

Sebastian Merrick, Lord Fairfax of England, is also looking for Reynaud. He believes that Reynaud stole a family heirloom and killed the owner during the robbery. The owner was Sebastian’s cousin and sole relative, Jonathan. Now Sebastian is left with Jonathan’s family (wife, two young sons and a mother) to care for. He vows revenge against Reynaud and sets off to find him, tracing him to Paris and Isabelle.

Sebastian confronts Isabelle with his theory. Isabelle immediately defends Reynaud, never believing he could be so coarse. The evidence mounts and Sebastian forces Isabelle to remain with him while they search. She ultimately agrees to form a truce while they look for Reynaud. Her hope is to prove his innocence while Sebastian plans to arrest him and transport him back to England.

Their search takes them across the French countryside to the villain behind the crime and all go through many dangerous interactions. During this journey, Isabelle falls in love. Sebastian falls more slowly, but fall he does.

There are many pitfalls to their romance, including Sebastian’s vow to protect Jonathan’s fortunes and estates for his sons. To him this means living on the estates and taking care of the widow and her sons. He also thinks it means that he cannot marry, as he has no home to offer other than sharing someone else’s.

There are several disconnects that I had with these two. Sebastian is generally acceptable as he is caring, heroic and seemingly intelligent. His stubbornness is his downfall, as he clings to it much too long, and the numerous misunderstandings it leads to weaken the story and his character.

Isabelle acts the selfish high-born lady of the manor much of the time. She is petty and throws tantrums. On the journey, she finally realizes that servants are people too and actually congratulates herself on starting to treat them respectfully. I cringed here!

The author herself seems to realize that Isabelle was not a likeable heroine.

“She [Isabelle] would have to rely on her wits, which until now she had not done.”

Shortly thereafter, Isabelle thinks these thoughts:

“And if she were honest with herself, she would have to admit that through it all, instead of rising to the occasion, she had behaved like a spoiled child.”

It was refreshing to realize that I was not the only one who thinks this, the author agreed with me! So where did that leave me but to continue reading and watch a quick turnaround in the character? Where Isabelle was once haughty, she became caring and concerned…where once pouty, she became understanding of others. It was too much for me. I could never really believe in her transformation.

The resolution to the suspense is rather brutal and definitely not part of a happy ending, although it does clear up the characters’ objections to their relationship rather expediently. Most of the mystery was intriguing and full of twists as to who, why and for what. The resolution disappointed me in its finality and convenience.

By the time of the happy ending, I was just thankful that A Treasure to Hold was over. With a more worthy heroine, I might have written a much more favorable review.

--Shirley Lyons

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