Lord Carlton's Courtship
by Debbie Raleigh
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-821-76463-2
***
Debbie Raleigh's debut Regency features an impressive hero and a storyline with a fun twist. Giles, Lord Carlton, is a wealthy peer who sometimes acts as a courier for the War Department. Arriving at his latest assignation, where he is to obtain a set of letters, he is surprised to find two interlopers. One is an unknown man and the other is a young boy. Giles has no time to discover their identities before they are all ambushed. In the ensuing melee, the young boy is wounded in the shoulder. Giles hides the boy in a barn, where he discovers that his charge is not a boy, but a young woman.

The woman escapes when Giles leaves to get water from a nearby stream. Weeks later, they meet again in London. Miss Roma Allendyle is there under duress, to appease an aunt who wishes to help her find a husband, the last thing on Roma's mind. She and Giles recognize each other immediately, and he pressures her into explaining her presence at the courier's assignation. Roma sets her mind to despising Giles, but reluctantly tells him that her brother, William, is missing and she found the packet of letters in her family library. She has come to London to see if she can track him down.

Giles, against his will, offers his assistance. Roma's initial reaction is to scoff and protest that she can handle things on her own, but he soon forces her to admit that he has entry where she does not. Roma reluctantly agrees to have Lord Carlton make discreet inquiries. Soon they are thrown together in a mock engagement in order to uncover the truth.

Lord Carlton's Courtship is well-plotted. The secondary characters play an important part in William's disappearance, and I commend the author for not traveling the well-worn path that I initially thought this book would take. Giles is a delightful hero -- witty, bored to death with the simpering women of the ton, delighted to find a woman of adventurous spirit. His unwillingness to involve himself and his admission that he can't help himself were endearing.

Roma wasn't quite his equal. She's certainly courageous, but that courage is too often demonstrated in adventures that are borderline foolhardy. Her refusal to admit that are some things Giles is better off handling makes her seem immature and headstrong, and she spends too much time tossing her head defiantly and viewing Giles with suspicion, although he's been nothing but straightforward with her. All this huffing and high-spiritedness made me wonder what Giles saw in her after the initial admiration for her bravery. Instead of teaming up and working together like partners, he has to spend too much time trying to convince Roma that he can be trusted and will do his best to find William. If Roma would have settled down and talked with Giles like a grown adult, I'd have had a lot more sympathy for her. As it was, she often seemed like a petulant teenager.

So there you have it. A fine story line and a worthy hero are diminished by a less-than-impressive heroine. However, for a debut novel, Lord Carlton's Courtship has much to recommend it, and I look forward to Debbie Raleigh's next work.

--Cathy Sova


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