The Widowed Miss Mordaunt
by Jeanne Savery
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6153-6
***
Don't they (whoever they are) say that pacing is everything? If this is indeed the case then what leads me to rate Jeanne Savery's latest Regency as "acceptable" rather than "recommended" has to do with a problem in pacing, in particular in pacing the developing relationship between the hero and heroine. Everything goes swimmingly for the first half of the book, but then becomes sadly bogged down in the final chapters. Which is a shame, because there is much to like in The Widowed Miss Mordaunt.

Obviously, the title demands an explanation. Constance Mordaunt has come to the Horse Guards to seek information about her missing brother, Selwyn. It seems that months after Waterloo, nothing has been heard from him. Indeed, nothing has really been heard from him in years. The last the family knew, he had been wounded and was being invalided home. But he never arrived. Clearly there is a mystery here.

This mystery had already come to the attention of Major Lord St. Aubyn. As one of Britain's chief intelligence agents, he knows where Selwyn has been in France, serving as a spy. But he doesn't know why Lt. Mordaunt has not returned to England now that the war is over. So when he overhears Constance demanding information about the missing officer, he steps in to help.

Jack also makes an erroneous assumption. He assumes that Constance is Selwyn's wife, not his sister. And Connie, aware that married women have greater freedom of action, does not correct his error. Jack's misperceptions are deepened when he discovers Connie in the presence of Selwyn's two children, Val and Venetia.

Jack has also discovered that Val may be in danger, probably from the loathsome Wilmot Mordaunt cousin and heir presumptive to the family barony. So he spirits the children and Connie out of town to his cousin's estate and plans to go to France to seek out the missing man. But Connie isn't having any of being left behind, and insists on accompanying the major.

Jack finds himself attracted to the tall, striking and immensely capable Connie, but he has his principles about getting involved with married women. For her part, Connie falls under the spell of the dashing major, but believes herself unattractive to men and is sure that her growing love is one-sided.

When Selwyn is finally located and Connie's true status is revealed, Jack immediately insists that the two must marry since he has clearly compromised the unmarried and thus unwidowed Miss Mordaunt. Connie refuses. She will not take advantage of Jack and force him to marry where he does not love. And she will not marry a man who does not love her.

And this is where the problem starts. For the next 120 pages, Connie steadfastly refuses to take Jack's suit seriously, despite her own feelings and his assiduous courting, her brother's encouragement, and his mother's insistence that she is the perfect wife for her son. Nor do the thrilling kisses and embraces they share serve to convince her. Frankly, I thought the lady did protest too much.

Thus, the whole second half of the novel is mostly taken up with Jack's attempts to win his lady fair, her resistance, and the efforts to both thwart the evil Wilmot's designs against Val. There are some nice additional touches centering on the characters of Jack's cousin Mary and Connie's friend from Cornwall, Ada, who also gets her happily ever after.

Jack was a suitably dashing hero, a nicely drawn character. And Connie was likewise an attractive heroine. But it all comes back to pacing. Connie's resistance just didn't ring true to me and so the romance seemed to drag.

Jeanne Savery is one of the best of the Regency authors writing for Zebra and I have thoroughly enjoyed a number of her stories. If this one doesn't rank among her best, it is still a quite acceptable Regency romance. Fans of the genre may well want to give it a try.

--Jean Mason


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