The Flower & the Sword

The Maiden & the Warrior

Meet Me at Midnight

The Princess of Park Lane

A Rose at Midnight

The Viking's Heart

 
The Beauty of Bond Street
by Jacqueline Navin
(Berkley, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0425-20356-5
***
This is the third installment of the Mayfair Bride Series and not having read the others did not detract from the story. The Beauty of Bond Street however has a mixture of good and bad, thus making this Regency historical no more than acceptable.

The series is based on Lady May and her brother's illegitimate children, whom she finds and offers to sponsor. In this tale, the niece is Sophie Kent, alias Temple. Sophie, you see, is a fake. She is not the true niece; rather she is the daughter of a friend of Millicent Kent, an actress and courtesan, who had an affair with May's brother. Millicent's daughter died at birth but she raised Sophie after her mother's death. When Millicent died, Sophie found the letters from May seeking the girl. Given the choice of finding a protector like her mother or passing herself off as this niece so she could respectfully marry, Sophie chose the deception.

Throughout the tale, Sophie feels badly that she is lying, but has convinced herself she will pay May back for everything. She doesn't expect to grow to love her nor does she expect to feel as if she is part of a family. But she does. On the night of her debut ball, May's household is disturbed by May's brother-in-law. Gideon Hayworth, the Earl of Ashford is suffering from burns he received when his gun backfired in the middle of a duel. May takes him in.

May is widowed and had raised Gideon when he was younger until her husband's death, which was ruled a suicide. At that time, his uncle removed him from May and she did not fight it. The uncle didn't like Gideon and constantly ridiculed him. To get back at him, Gideon became the reprobate he predicted he would be and was estranged from May. Gideon gambled, drank and seduced other men's wives. It was following one such affair that the duel took place.

Gideon and Sophie meet while he is recuperating and become friends, while fighting their attraction. May is determined that she will now reform Gideon and pave the way for him to reenter society, salvaging his reputation. He reluctantly agrees, primarily because he still cares for May and is starting to care for Sophie. Gideon is a nobleman despite his behavior. He promises himself not to harm Sophie and he acts with honor around her.

The entire story revolves around secrets. Sophie's is a big one. Gideon struggles to discover his true character, often acting and saying contradictory things. May is burdened with guilt around her husband's death. Sophie is being courted by Lord Burton, a man who is loved by her best friend, Margaux. But Margaux hides her feelings because she thinks Sophie likes him. Into this mess enters an old friend of Gideon's, who really is despicable. He recognizes Sophie and threatens to expose her if she tries to stop him from seducing Margaux.

Sound convoluted? It is. Yet, the author handles this juggling fairly well while developing the characters and plot. It starts to drag a little in the middle, with Sophie and Gideon at a crossroads and neither ready to declare their love. The entire tale takes an unexpected twist, which is not resolved until the end.

Gideon is a good hero, especially if one likes the idea that rogues of the worst kind can really be decent fellows and can easily be reformed by a good woman. Sophie, despite her upbringing, is a lady and because of her upbringing is more independent than most. She knows what she wants and is determined to get it.

If you have followed the series, a few of the previous characters make appearances and May's love affair from the earlier books does get resolved. However, The Beauty of Bond Street has just a few too many secrets to suit my palate.

--Shirley Lyons


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