Waltz with a Stranger
by Pamela Sherwood
(Sourcebooks, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-1402273223
****
Pamela Sherwood's debut romance is a delightful story of two sisters and one man, and their attempts to untangle an engagement. The author takes the high road, stays true to the mores of the time, and ends up leaving a wonderful impression on the reader. Waltz with a Stranger is an excellent first novel.

American heiresses Amelia and Aurelia Newbold, who are identical twins, are in Victorian London to enjoy the social scene - and perhaps find a husband for Amelia. Since she's pretty and rich, there is no lack of titled suitors. James Trelawney spies Amy across a ballroom one evening but knows he lacks a title. Nonetheless, he is smitten with her looks.

James escapes the crush of the ballroom and finds himself in the conservatory, where he sees Miss Newbold alone, swaying to the music. Only this is Aurelia, not Amy. Aurelia, who was left with a facial scar and a limp after a riding accident three years earlier, came to the conservatory to avoid the pitying looks of the other guests. James introduces himself, and impulsively asks her to dance. They share a waltz right there in the conservatory, and both of them sense an undercurrent of attraction, a thread of connection. Aurelia forgets her limp and scar in the arms of this man, who doesn't seem to care about either.

Aurelia soon leaves for Paris, where she spends a year undergoing treatment for her limp. She returns to London with renewed health and more confidence, only to find that her beloved twin sister has become engaged - to James Trelawney. James's degenerate cousin died unexpectedly, and he's now an earl with an impoverished estate, in need of an heiress. Amy didn't expect a love match; James is handsome and kindhearted, and when he proposed, she accepted. James and Aurelia are shocked to encounter one another again, and as they get to know each other better, they fall in love.

But James has too much honor to break it off with Amy. Aurelia won't hurt her beloved sister by coming between them. Amy knows this is no love match, but believes the marriage can be successful, and wishes her sister could find a man to love - unaware that Aurelia has fallen in love with her own fiance. And James is receiving threatening letters implicating him in his cousin's death; it's to Aurelia he turns for support and help.

This could easily have become a tale of a jealous, vengeful twin, but Pamela Sherwood wisely keeps her characters true to themselves. Amy and Aurelia love each other dearly and are the best of friends, and they remain so throughout the book. James is no rake, and he keeps to his vow to do right by Amy. How their relationship is untangled is a satisfying journey, as Amy discovers that the right man could be under her nose all along.

The mystery is effective in pushing the story along, and the author was wise to include it, because there isn't a lot of conflict in the middle third of the book as James and Aurelia's feelings deepen, but they resolve to do nothing about it. The book might feel a bit too long, but the resolution is satisfying. Most of the story is done to perfection.

Waltz with a Stranger is a delightful treat. Pamela Sherwood is a bright new talent and I'll be looking forward to her next book. Historical romance needs more authors of this quality.

--Cathy Sova


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