With This Ring by Carla Kelly
(Signet Regency, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-18685-0
*****
I have to be completely honest and admit that I sometimes wish Carla Kelly didn't write Regency romances. Not because they're not wonderful, but because they are. But I know firsthand, after spending the last eight years working in a bookstore, that there are people that don't read Regencies because they think they want a full-length historical. What With This Ring does in just 240 pages is a delightful treat for any reader. (We'll just have to convince all those unbelievers!)

Major Sam Reed, recovering from a nasty saber wound, was not required to remain with his common soldiers in a drafty London church. But as an officer and a gentleman, he could do no less. And, as it happens, Sam is in no real hurry to return to his estate at least not without the wife his family thinks he's had for years. His faithful lieutenant has been authoring imaginary letters to Sam's family in the guise of his non-existent wife, and his family is expecting him to return home with that beautiful, brave, loyal wife. (Oh, and a baby, too.)

Lydia Perkins' family situation is dreadful: a spineless father, an abusive mother, and a spoiled, beautiful younger sister who treats Lydia as her personal maid. Lydia can only dream of happiness, but with no dowry and a rather ordinary face, her prospects seem rather bleak although Lydia has always managed to keep her wonderful dry sense of humor.

Lydia's life changes the day her mother forces her to accompany her sister to that drafty church, in the hope that her sister will meet some duke or earl. Observing the injured soldiers has become the 'in' thing for the ton to do in London, rather like visiting the animals in the zoo. Just observing -- certainly not helping them -- in fact, Lydia's sister is instructed by their mother to just walk by with a sympathetic look on her face!

But Lydia's kind heart is touched by the poor conditions and the brave and dying men. In her first-ever act of defiance (with the help of Sam Reed and his general), she challenges her mother and returns to help care for the soldiers.

And so you have the scenario: Sam desperately needs a wife and Lydia desperately needs to escape her family. But if you've never read a Carla Kelly book, I should warn you that her plots are never really that simple and her characters never stereotypical.

I can't remember the last book I read with two such wonderful, delightful, human characters. Lydia matures right before the reader's eyes from an abused, retiring, nondescript doormouse into a strong, confident, self-reliant woman in believable stages. And Sam, courageous and compassionate, but occasionally grumpy, is never quite as brave as he thinks he should be.

I have to admit that as the ending approached I became a little worried that Kelly was going with a cliched easy ending. But I should have known better. The ending, like the book , was just about perfect.

So please, please read this Regency and help me pass the word: Carla Kelly's Regency romances are for everyone.

--Dede Anderson


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