The Bluestocking
on His Knee

Catch of the Season

The Unflappable Miss Fairchild

A Dangerous Dalliance
by Regina Scott
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6609-0
Miss Hannah Alexander is an artist and teacher at a private girls' school. Her career as a portrait painter is just taking off, and she is anticipating moving to London at the end of the school year to devote herself full-time to painting. Consequently, she is not pleased when the school's headmistress insists that she must accompany four students in their mid-teens as chaperone over Easter break. The girls will be visiting the recently widowed Lady Brentfield, the aunt of the eldest girl, Priscilla Tate. On the journey, Priscilla informs Hannah and the other girls that there is an understanding that she will wed the new Lord Brentfield.

David Tenant, the soon-to-be-confirmed Earl of Brentfield, is not your typical stiff British aristocrat. He is the very distant relation of the late earl and his son, who were killed in a carriage mishap that may not have been accidental. It was feared that the title would fall into abeyance before David, a leather craftsman in Boston, was located. David has not lost his democratic, populist tendencies in spite of his elevation in status.

Sylvia, Lady Brentfield, several years his senior, had plotted to snare David for herself in order to maintain the standard of living that she considers essential, but when he firmly resisted all her attempts, she decides that marrying him off to her most manageable niece will serve her purpose. She invites Priscilla in order to accomplish this end and stipulates that she be accompanied by three less attractive friends and the "most docile and obedient of teachers."

When the carriage arrives at the estate, David is immediately attracted to Hannah and she to him before she learns that the casually attired gentleman is in fact the earl himself. Sylvia is appalled to discover that the chaperone she expected to be a dowd has a quiet beauty and in one amusing scene tries to remove Hannah from the vicinity while David cleverly counters each of her maneuvers.

David has more than merely the intention of furthering his acquaintance with Hannah in wanting her to stay. His friend and assistant, Asheram (whom Sylvia refers to as "Haversham"), has discovered that there are a number of valuable art objects listed on the inventory that are in fact missing. David believes that Hannah's art knowledge can be an asset in determining the extent of the loss.

But Sylvia is not the type to meekly allow her plans to be overset by this rustic from America and a little nobody of a teacher. As David and Hannah explore secret passageways in search of the missing art, Sylvia is plotting to arrange matters to suit her ends.

There is much to enjoy in this lighthearted Regency romance. The characters are engaging (even the Machiavellian Sylvia has a certain devious charm), the plot features a few unexpected twists, and the humorous writing enlivens the entire tale.

Countless historical romances have featured the penniless-governess-snags-rich-lord plot. Regina Scott has put a welcome spin on this old standard by making the heroine a character who is capable of achieving success even without marriage to the hero. Furthermore, the hero fixes his interest on the heroine from the outset and recognizes her value. The romance between the two is sweet and believable (a lot more believable than David's implausible American rustic background). They are both principled and dedicated; they're right for each other.

I especially appreciated the way the author developed the characters of Hannah's four young charges. Over the course of the story, they become individuals with unique identities. They have more of a function in the plot than merely to act spoiled and cause problems for Hannah. (There's at least a hint that one of the girls will make a reappearance in a sequel.) The prominence of their role in the story makes this a highly suitable choice for younger readers.

The mystery of the missing art adds an appealing element and is woven cleverly into the story. The foundation is laid early in the story, and the solution to the whodunit is not the obvious one.

What is primarily delightful about A Dangerous Dalliance, however, is the delightful humor that sparkles throughout. The same plot could have been fashioned into somber, ominous tale. Thanks to the author's amusing treatment, I had a smile on my face throughout most of the book.

After years of being an avid Regency romance fan, lately I have been disappointed by many of the Regencies I've read. It was a real pleasure to discover this entertaining Regency, and I recommend it to others who have shared my enjoyment of this genre.

--Lesley Dunlap

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