The Captainís Secret

Lord Graftonís Promise
by Jenna Mindel
(Signet Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-21702-0
Lucinda Bromwell dangled herself on the Marriage Mart, hoping to lure a wealthy man into marriage and save her family from ruin. Her plan succeeded; when Lord Graftonís Promise opens, Lucinda has just married Sir Alaric Darrow, and he has generously provided for her family. But on the way to Sir Alaricís estate, the carriage overturns, the driver disappears, and Sir Alaric appears to be choking to death. Douglas Arden, who is the Earl of Grafton and one of Sir Alaricís neighbors, comes on the scene just in time to have Sir Alaric beg him to look after Lucinda, voice his fear that heís been poisoned, and pass his drinking flask to Douglas. Sir Alaric then dies.

Douglas is left with an overwrought young woman, whom he suspects may have killed her husband. After all, it was no secret that the lovely Miss Bromwell was a fortune-hunter. Douglas decides to take Lucinda to his nearby family home under the auspices of looking out for her, but really to try and find out more about this scheming tart. He deposits her in the care of his mother and finds one reason after another why she should not leave.

Only things donít go according to plan. Lucinda is about as sweet as they come, and her gentle nature and air of goodness cast grave doubts on Douglasís theory. Moreover, it seems Lucinda may be in danger as well. When Sir Alaricís will is read, itís clear that more than one person would benefit from his death. Against his growing attraction to Lucinda, Douglas must try to uncover the murderer.

Lucinda and Douglas are a cute couple, though neither is particularly memorable. She remains sweet and gentle throughout, and Douglas is fun to watch as he is gradually forced to reassess his opinion of Lucinda. What held this story back was the sometimes-overwrought writing. Lucinda is often on the verge of swooning, or going pale with distress, or looking like sheíd ďbeen through hellĒ (this because her hair is down and her skirt is torn Ė not a likely candidate for ďhellĒ in my book). Itís all very melodramatic, but adds nothing to the story and is more than a little distracting. But Lucinda doesnít make a strong impression anyway, and one gets the feeling that if it werenít for all the near-swooning, she would barely register at all, other than as a sweet presence.

Douglas is much more vivid as a character. He storms around, sure heís harboring a murderess under his roof, and he doesnít like having to rethink his ideas. This might have come across as rather stubborn and lunkheaded, but here it seems to work. Douglas sincerely liked Sir Alaric, and is sorry to see him dead. This, coupled with his distaste for avaricious debutantes, sets up his thinking, however wrongheaded it might be.

The villain wonít take many readers by surprise, though the ending is suitably tense. If you donít mind the melodramatic approach, Lord Graftonís Promise is a pleasant way to spend a few hours. Ultimately, itís no more than that, though.

Cathy Sova


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