Gambler's Daughter

Midnight Mistress by Ruth Owen
(Bantam, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-553-57746-9
Midnight Mistress is a book where I find a lot to like about the romance, but still have a few reservations about recommending it.

London in 1812 has seen many changes and so has Lady Juliana Dare. For the sake of her father, Juliana has turned herself into the perfect Society debutante. She sometimes forgets she ever sailed the seas with her father, and that as a young girl, she loved a sailor named Connor Reed.

Although it's been six years since he betrayed her love and her father's faith, Juliana has no intention of ever forgiving Connor or allowing him back into her life. Then, suddenly, he reappears in London as a war hero: a privateer with a totally new identity.

Juliana wants nothing to do with this new Connor, a man who has women sighing over his good looks and men's admiration for his daring deeds. But after her father dies and leaves Juliana his shipping line, she finds she needs Connor's help to continue her father's dream of running a successful shipping operation.

As far as Connor is concerned, Lady Juliana is beautiful but too much trouble and way out of his reach socially. He wants nothing to do with her; Connor figures he's already spent too much of his life coming to her rescue.

However, it turns out that saving Juliana is too much of a habit to break, just like loving her. Although Connor doesn't want to work for Juliana, the war with France makes Juliana's ships a valuable commodity.

Working together brings the two closer and each learns to respect the other; Juliana finds her work rewarding. Old feelings between the two begin to resurface, but Connor knows that if Juliana ever discovers the real reason he agreed to work for her, she would never forgive him.

What did I like about Midnight Mistress? The author displays a fine knowledge of the historical period; she provides lots of atmosphere and background for her story.

Also, there are many well-drawn, fully realized characters, including some fine secondary characters who keep the story line interesting. And the identity of the villain in this book remains an intriguing question mark until the last chapter.

The reservations I have about this book, besides the rather misleading title, are that at times the plot seems just a little too contrived. For example, there's too much emphasis on the big misunderstanding(s) between Juliana and Connor.

I don't want to single out this book because it truly has many fine points, but I'm getting tired of reading romances with the same unfortunate structure. That is, boy meets girl; somebody does something stupid and boy loses girl; boy and girl meet again and continue to be stupid until the last few chapters.

Juliana pretty much sums up my thoughts when she's says something like, Gee, weren't we/aren't we stupid to have ever doubted each other. Frankly, I had to agree with her; I would have enjoyed this book so much more if Juliana and Connor had resolved their personal differences by asking each other a few intelligent and pertinent questions right from the start, instead of waiting until the last 50 pages.

--Judith Flavell

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