Amethyst

 
Emerald by Lauren Royal
(Signet, $6.50, R) ISBN 0-451-20142-6
***
Following Amethyst, Emerald is the second book in Lauren Royal's "Jewel Chase" series. Set in Restoration England during the reign of Charles II, this novel focuses on the burgeoning romance between an English marquess and the daughter of a Scottish baronet.

Caithren Leslie has tentatively inherited her father's entire estate in Scotland, but whether or not she keeps it is dependent upon her willingness to carry out the main stipulation in his will. Cait must marry within one year from the date of her father's death (to presumably anyone of her choosing) or the lands revert to her incompetent brother Adam. (Adam has inherited the title, but not the lands and money.) Cait, however, has no plans to wed, so she formulates a plan. She decides to find her brother Adam and get him to sign over all rights to the Leslie lands, whereupon she will settle a considerable sum of money on him.

En route to London, Cait overhears a conversation between two nobly born gentlemen during which they detail their plans to murder their elder brother, the Earl of Scarborough. When she spots them at an inn a while later, she decides to publicly expose them and in the process accidentally acquires a sword wound at the hands of Jason Cane, a man who's been after the scheming duo for yet another attempted murder on their part.

Jason confuses Cait with Emerald MacCallum, a notorious Scotswoman who wears mens' breeches, carries a pistol, and tracks down outlaws for reward money. Even if she is a hunter of outlaws, Jason still feels a responsibility toward her since he injured her with his sword. Refusing to let "Emerald" out of his sight, he takes it upon himself to get her to London safely.

The commoner Jason Cane, unbeknownst to Cait, is actually the dashing and wealthy Marquess of Cainewood. Left with no choice after Jason basically kidnaps her, Cait rides with him to London where she hopes to find her brother Adam and Jason hopes to stop the two villains from murdering the Earl of Scarborough. When disdain evolves into a searing passion, Cait will have to decide how important being independent from marriage is to her.

For the most part, Emerald is a fun tale and a solid romance. The only problem I have with the story line in general is that the middle portion of the book is too drawn out. It was important for Royal to give the protagonists time to convincingly bond with each other while en route to London, but there comes a point when said bonding time is a wee bit much.

During their trip of a few days time, Cait and Jason go to a fair, dance with gypsies, look at ruins, stop to eat a zillion times, and so on and so on. Then when they finally reach London, they attend a ball, a wedding, and the theater in a day flat. Royal could have cut out about eighty percent of these side adventures, thereby reducing the page count by a solid seventy pages and simultaneously keeping the plot faster paced.

Otherwise, Emerald is an entertaining read. The protagonists are two very likable people who make a lot of sense together. Jason is a tad on the staid, reserved side, whereas Cait is more outgoing and impulsive. When the two come together, they make for a funloving, sensual couple.

The next installment to this series will come in novella form and will feature Cait's cousin Cameron. Watch for "Forevermore," Royal's short story in the anthology In Praise of Younger Men, a Signet release coming out in the spring of 2001.

--Tina Engler


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