White Roses by Janet Nickoles
(Leisure, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-29398-00550-3
***
If you can get past the godawful cover (I admit it, I am becoming ever more embarrassed by half-naked people on my book covers) you'll find White Roses to be a pretty exciting, often steamy romance. A fast-paced tale of passion and revenge, the Regency London-based story manages to rise above some rather stock characters (the nobleman, the waif, and the evil relative) thanks to strong plotting and a brisk writing style

It's 1815 and a daring thief is the talk of the Ton. Named "The White Rose" in honor of the trademark calling card the thief leaves at the scene of every crime, the thief is the nobility's Public Enemy Number One. Suspicion has recently fallen upon the dissolute Edward Turner, and no one is more convinced of his guilt than his cousin Lord Nicholas Grey. The bad blood between the two has simmered for years, and Nicholas is finally convinced that his evil cousin will get his just desserts.

What Nicholas doesn't count on is falling in love with the notorious White Rose.

He first meets Margaret Alston incognito at a ball and immediately decides to make the beautiful "widow" his next mistress. Though attracted to Nicholas, Maggie has more pressing issues to deal with. She has disguised herself as Mrs. Sanford to gain entry to the Ton's most glittering parties. There she is able to observe her mortal enemy, Edward Turner, and perpetrate her crimes and lay the blame at Turner's feet. When Nicholas eventually unmasks the "Rose" and discovers it is the same woman he has been chasing, his dismay turns to determination. He demands that Maggie accept his help in bringing an end to the man who has brought misery to both their lives.

Maggie is afraid of Turner, but she's even more afraid of giving up her hard won freedom. Surviving on the streets of London with her friend Dare and their young "brother" Thomas, Maggie is set on gaining her revenge and then starting a new life in America. Nicholas' charm and persistence throws a wrench into all of her plans. When the passions that flame between the two finally reach the boiling point, he insists on marrying something Maggie has promised she would never do.

Maggie tries to come to terms with the fears that haunt her waking hours. Nicholas tries to understand the willful young woman who has captured his heart.

Although White Roses is more than a bit somber at times, it is still a lively read. The hero is highhanded and the heroine is stubborn, but the chemistry between the two fairly sizzles. As for the arch-enemy, he's evil through and through.

The tale does tend bog down in the last half, thanks to all the "I love you but I simply can't marry you and give up my freedom" talk. I began to wonder whether Maggie was just suffering from a martyr complex. Of the secondary characters, there is the angry young man, the cute little boy, the steadfast friend, and not one, but two, wise old aristocratic ladies. Considering the setting, I found these two women to be far too lenient of Maggie and Nicholas' extracurricular activities. I wished that more time had been paid to Maggie's relationship with Dare, the knife-wielding protector whose feeling for Maggie were never completely fleshed out.

Despite these issues, however, White Roses is a satisfying audience pleaser.

--Ann McGuire


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