Cupboard Kisses

A Debt to Delia

The Diamond Key

The Duel

Lord Heartless

Love, Louisa

Miss Lockhart's Letters

Miss Treadwell's Talent

Miss Westlake's Windfall

The Painted Lady

Saved by Scandal

Wedded Bliss

A Worthy Wife

The Hourglass by Barbara Metzger
(Signet, $6.99, PG) ISBN 978-0-451-22079-0
The Grim Reaper isn't one individual; it's a team of individuals. Each member's name is one of the various letters of alphabet. Sir Coryn of Ardsley was a Crusader, but for centuries he's been known as Ardeth (R Death, get it?) as he collects the dying. It is now the Regency era, and he's ready to put his plans in place.

He gambles with Satan so that he can be alive again. He wins, but Satan doesn't let him off free. He pulls the hourglass pin, the symbol of the office, from Ardeth's cloak and throws it out into the world. Ardeth has six months to find it; otherwise he belongs to Satan forever. Following Ardeth into the world is a gremlin who takes the form of a talking crow.

Ardeth returns to life in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo. He seeks out a hospital tent where he helps treat the wounded and dying. Also working there is Imogene Macklin. Genie has no other place to go. Her officer husband was killed - not in the battle but by his lover's husband when he found them together in bed. She and Elgin had been forced to marry after her sisterís cruel trick put them in a compromising position. Elgin had never revealed they were married to his superiors because he feared marriage would limit his Army career. She has no one - neither family nor friends - to turn to. Moreover, Genie is pregnant with Elgin's child.

Ardeth admires Genie and proposes they marry. He is the Earl of Ardsley and even though he is unlikely to survive more than six months, she and her baby will have the security that title and wealth can provide. Genie is reluctant, but her circumstances give her few options.

They marry quickly and travel to England where Ardeth, who has been preparing for this moment for centuries, will regain his earthly status. He is actively trying to retrieve the hourglass Satan threw away. He has advertised widely, and many hourglasses have been sent to him but not the right one.

Genie fears that she will never be accepted socially, even by her own family, but Ardeth patiently works to reestablish her. Genie, who wonders exactly what sort of being she has married, gradually comes to realize that Ardeth is a genuinely good person.

Now that he is close to achieving his goals, are he and Genie doomed to have only six months together?

Barbara Metzger wrote Regency romances for Signet. With the demise of the Signet Regency line, she has made a switch in genre. The Hourglass, set in Regency times, is a fantasy romance with heavy emphasis on the fantasy. Readers will need to be comfortable with the hybrid genre to enjoy the story. Some of the elements - such as the easy acceptance of a talking crow - strain credulity. With a heft dose of willing suspension of disbelief, however, The Hourglass is an entertaining tale.

The book's strength is in character development. Both Ardeth and Genie are appealing and even admirable characters. For years Genie has been unappreciated and persecuted. Ardeth is determined to right the wrongs done to her. His tactics are unerring. It's an underlying thread in the story that Ardeth demonstrates more humanity than most of the fully live persons around him. Of course, he's had centuries to mend his ways.

Barbara Metzger's Regency romance fans will be pleased to see that the author's career has not been derailed. The Hourglass is likely to please her readers and possibly gain her new ones.

--Lesley Dunlap

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