Double Deception

An Inconvenient Wife

The Lady in Gray

Lady Jane's Nemesis

Scandalous Secrets

An Unsuitable Match

Broken Promises by Patricia Oliver
(Signet, $4.99, PG) ISBN: 0-451-20296-1
Revenge is sweet, but true love is sweeter. That is the lesson the hero of Patricia Oliver’s new Regency romance must learn. That it takes him an inordinate amount of time to figure this out, well the male of the species has never been known for his wisdom when it comes to a conflict between his pride and his heart.

Miles Stephens, Viscount Halifax had known Miss Mathilda Heath for years, but when he saw her all grown up, he fell immediately under her spell and proposed forthwith. Mathilda’s parents were delighted that the heir to Earl of Southmoor wished to marry their daughter. Mathilda was also quite pleased; she found the darkly handsome viscount a properly romantic figure - until she got to know him. During the months between their betrothal and wedding day, Miles performed none of the pleasant courtesies or lover-like gestures that would have warmed the heart of a romantic seventeen year old. So her youthful admiration and love died aborning, particularly when another neighbor began to pay court to her.

Sir James Parmenter might have been a mere baronet, but he clearly loved her and she fell in love with him. Thus, on the eve of her planned wedding to Viscount Halifax, Mathilda eloped with James, married him, and headed off to India. Ten years later, she has come back to England, the widowed mother of two young sons.

Miles had been crushed by Mathilda’s defection. He had, indeed, loved the lovely young girl she had been, but had been unable or unwilling to show her the way he felt. Moreover, she had left him to face the embarrassing scandal that had followed. He had retreated from society for several years and had only reemerged at the insistence of his mother that he find a bride to carry on the family name. But none of the young misses he met had suited him. Now he hears that Mathilda has returned and he hatches a devious and diabolical plan. He will court the widow and abandon her, just as she abandoned him.

Mathilda had hoped to remove quickly to the property her husband left her near Bath, thus avoiding both Miles and the scandalmongers. But it is not to be. She meets the earl and discovers him much changed. He is no longer the cold and remote figure of ten years earlier. Her previous fond feelings toward Miles revive under his kindness to her sons and his consideration to her. But can they overcome past hurts?

There are a number of nice twists to Oliver’s tale. The most refreshing is the fact that James turned out not to have been a rotter and their marriage had indeed been a happy one. Mathilda may regret the hurt that Miles suffered because of her elopement, but she never once regrets marrying James. This is a welcome departure from the conventions that usually govern stories about second chances at love.

Another neat twist is the way that Oliver has Miles gradually come to understand exactly the role that his behavior played in Mathilda’s flight. He’s pretty slow at comprehending that he might have been culpable and almost leaves it till too late. But at least Miles does finally get it.

If I have any problem with the book, it comes right at the end, when Miles’ scheme begins to play out. But this is a minor quibble; it could have happened this way, so I accept the author’s prerogative to tell her story as she sees fit.

Patricia Oliver is a very interesting Regency author. When she is good, she is very, very good. With Broken Promises, she is very, very good.

--Jean Mason

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