The Defiant Miss Foster
by Melinda McRae
(Signet, $6.99, G) ISBN 0-451-20950-8
A strong conflict, whether it’s internal or external, is almost mandatory for a satisfying romance. Unfortunately, The Defiant Miss Foster is sorely lacking in this regard. Indeed, for most of the book, the hero barely knows the heroine is alive, much less has any romantic interest in her whatsoever.

Valentine Debenham, the new Baron Newkirk, is shocked to find that his late father was guardian for the five Foster children, whom he apparently neglected completely for the past seven years. Val immediately sets out to visit them at their home, Kingsford Manor. What he finds is a shabby house and three impish young boys who immediately manage to tie him up.

There Val sits, like a trussed chicken, when the two oldest Fosters arrive. Nick, the eldest, is immediately won over by a promise of an Army commission. Katherine, age nineteen, is incensed to learn that their guardian intends to send the younger boys away to school. Kat challenges Val to a duel and manages to shoot him in the rear end. Val orders Kat to his sister Sophie’s home, where he hopes this hoyden will gain some much-needed lessons in ladylike comportment.

Sophie, a young widow, soon becomes fast friends with the adventurous Kat. Val turns up to check on their progress and is generally pleased, enough so to take the ladies to London. Kat wants only to retrieve her younger brothers and head back to the country. Val, however, intends to find her a suitable husband. However, he’s not pleased with any of the young men who flock to Kat’s side, though some of them are quite proper. What’s a guardian to do?

In this case, virtually nothing for most of the book. This had to be one of the dullest Regencies in recent memory. Val resignedly takes horse-mad Kat around town to some of the places she wishes to see, such as Tattersall’s and Astley’s. There are pages and pages of conversation that don’t advance the plot, and through it all, Val looks upon Kat with a sort of benign interest that is anything but romantic. Indeed, for the first half of the book, the two spend little time with one another. When they are finally drawn into closer proximity, Val’s primary thoughts are about finding a way to marry her off.

Val gradually forms a vague interest in Kat, but his big moment of realization, which comes about twenty pages before the end, is completely unconvincing, as is Kat’s. These two barely know each other. If their interaction had been more frequent or had any depth to it, I might have bought it, but Val doesn’t even try to spend much time with Kat until he decides he’s “in love” with her. Sorry. No sale.

Kate, for her part, regards Val as a nuisance and a tyrant for most of the book. He won’t acquiesce to her demand to bring her brothers home, insisting that it’s for their own good and they are quite happy to be with other boys (which they are). Rather than approach this in a more mature fashion, like asking to be taken to visit them and simply see for herself, Kat descends into tears and foot-stomping, finally determining to find any willing guy to marry her so she can get the boys back. Her sudden about-face felt no more believable than Val’s.

The book is well-written, and I have enjoyed many of Melinda McRae’s books in the past. If you are new to her work, I recommend starting with another title. The Defiant Miss Foster falls flat as a romance.

--Cathy Sova

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