by Christina Dodd, historical (2000)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-380-81198-7
Eighteen years ago, 17-year old Devon Mathewes saw Pamela Lockhart naked. She saw him... well, that is a major plot element so I won't reveal it here. Suffice to say, what each other saw would haunt Devon for the rest of the eighteen years.
Today, Devon doesn't actually recognize Pamela. He has hired the now impoverished lady to be a governess as well as a nanny to an orphan. Which orphan? Well, he'll let Miss Lockhart find one for him. Queen Victoria, you see, wants him, the rakehell and committed Casanova, to be Respectable. He doesn't want to get married, but hey, what's more Respectable than him adopting a stray kid, right?
After getting the Queen off his back, he would throw the brat back to the streets, pay off the "ugly, prudish" Miss Lockhart (she's in disguise, you see, she actually looks like Lady Godiva), and continue his merry tomcatty ways.
An unrepentant rogue like this, who is so confident of his charms and self-worth, is bound to fall hard. Very hard. Rock-bottom hard. And boy, does he fall indeed.
Rules Of Engagement, book two of The Governess Bride (the first is the rather lackluster Rules Of Surrender), is simply a delight. Devon is a rake, the most lethal kind that every mom warns her daughters about, and boy if he doesn't charm me silly. The author manages to balance his chauvinistic ways with a lethal, almost fatal, dose of sex appeal and rakish dash that I find it oh so hard to resist. (When the author has Devon naked, I really had to turn up the air-conditioner.)
And Pamela, who tries so hard to stand up to him, gives back good, but hey, I understand completely when she can't resist either. Watching these two stumble and bicker into love is fun, absolutely a delight. The love scenes too are hot to scorch.
But I have to mention a few irritants. Two minor ones and one major one, the latter preventing me from giving this book an unreserved two thumbs up.
The two minor ones first. While Devon is a delightful scoundrel, Pamela remains a fuzzy character. She is a mix of several conventional heroine traits - loves the country, well-knowledgeable, doesn't like to lie, loves children, etc - but these traits somehow never gel well enough to make her a developed character. Sometimes she's this, sometimes she's that, but who is she actually? I never seem to know.
Then there's that orphan Beth. Ugh. How old is she? I'm told she's - eight? - but she acts like a sulky eighteen at times, a bratty seven at others. Her role is obviously that of a matchmaking Care Bear. Say cute things, Beth, and get those two lummoxes lip-smacking. It is so annoying to find unwanted saccharine in my romances. (The Robespierre in me is also quite annoyed that of all the orphans in the Home, Beth - the literate, noble-class or at least upper middle class orphan - has to be chosen from all the middle-class and presumably inferior stock. Bah.)
And the major annoyance is the last quarter of the story, when silly miscommunication problems barge in. Devon and Pamela start acting really out of character, indulging in petty sulks and tantrums that are a far cry from their aggressive I Want, I Take nature of the first three-quarters. Why such contrivances? I have a hard time remembering the delightful first three-quarters of Rules Of Engagement so as to not to trash it completely in this review. The last quarter is really awful in the sense that it almost jettisons whatever fun and good about this story in the first place - wit, fun, and sexual tension by the oodles.
If not for the last few chapters, this book would have been a clear, outstanding winner.
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