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Marrying Mischief by Lyn Stone
(Harl. Hist.#601, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-29201-5
What makes good romance? An engaging hero, an intelligent heroine, a lighthearted feeling of love, some conflicts to show how good the good times are and good sex put together to make the reader feel the story. Marrying Mischief has all these ingredients, and generally delights.

Nicholas Hollander, new Earl of Kendale, returns from a long stint in India when his father dies, only to discover cholera amongst the ship’s crewmembers. Rather than risk discovery on the ship, he takes port near his country estate, sends all the servants to his London residence, installs the crew and begins a quarantine period. Knowing he can be arrested for endangering society with this disease, he tries to keep it quiet and act as if nothing is wrong, turning away interested villagers by being surly.

But this does not keep Emily Lovenye, the vicar’s daughter, away. Emily and Nicholas were once childhood friends. Nicholas kissed Emily openly in front of the village, and then was shipped off to India by his father. Soon thereafter, his father announced Nicholas’ betrothal to someone else. In 1856, this was enough to leave 17-year-old Emily with a ruined reputation. Now 7 years later, she is not going to be turned away. Her younger brother is on the estate, having sailed on the ship sent to bring Nicholas home. She is determined to see him.

But once she sneaks in, Nicholas cannot allow her to leave until the quarantine time is over. Still in love with her, and stung by her lack of response to his letters, he determines that she must marry him to protect her reputation. Emily, still in love with Nicholas, and hurt by his departure and lack of communication in all this time, reluctantly agrees, but insists the marriage is one of convenience only. She is fearful that Nicholas will be ashamed that his countess is not one of the nobility, a thought put into her head by the old Earl, who also intercepted their communications.

Now the fun begins. Strong-willed Emily is no longer the agreeable playmate Nicholas remembers. Nicholas is a man with secrets…he was employed by the Defense Ministry while in India. The two must overcome the distrust created by the old Earl’s machinations. Nicholas must end the betrothal contract that has his forged signature on it. It seems someone is trying to kill him. And Emily keeps catching Nicholas in little white lies, adding to her mistrust.

Thankfully, the author lets each of these two stew but then they confront each other…and oh how fun those little tiffs. Intrigued by the passion they still feel, yet wary of the past history, these two make the determination that they will make it together. Every time I thought the big misunderstanding was coming, they fought and worked it out. Yeah!

The helpful ladies maid and the rough exterior seaman-turned-valet are delightful. The good friend, Guy Duquesne, who will probably have his own story soon, finds himself amused and helps Nicholas see all the good in Emily.

The pacing varies, and leaves me feeling a little hesitant to wholeheartedly recommend the story. There are places where things drag, as Emily seems to take longer to make the right choice, leaving me with a feeling of frustration at her stubbornness, followed by satisfaction that she confronts the issue. Nicholas, at times, is too sure of himself and over-confident that he is the strong male with all the answers. Then he, too, realizes his error and engages in fact-finding conversations. This wavering really did not work for me in the long run.

The conflicts are standard, though happily - the means of dealing with them are not; and the resolutions are predictable. The depth of the dangers Nicholas and Emily confront are cursory at best. Although the story told me there were threats to their lives, I never really felt they were serious. This lack of intensity lessened the relief I felt upon the resolution.

Marrying Mischief is a lighthearted romp, with plenty to recommend it. I think you’ll enjoy it as I did.

--Shirley Lyons

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