by Pamela Britton, historical (2003)
Warner, $5.99, ISBN 0-446-61129-8

Pamela Britton is one of the few authors who got the shortest stick when Harper and Avon merged, but if Seduced is anything to go by, Harper's loss is Warner's gain. If Ms Britton keeps this up, well, I don't know. It's quite scary. Seduced is such an impressive improvement over the author's last book, Enchanted By Your Kisses that I am more than happy to give this book a keeper grade on that alone. How nice that the author offers many other reasons for me to justify giving it a keeper grade. It is the mystery angle of the story that strains my credulity, so consider this book actually being this close to hitting an even higher keeper grade but missing it by a hairline.

The storyline is actually simple, not the mention familiar and even tedious in the wrong hands. Lucien St Aubyn is a notorious rake. Since everyone associated with him dies in often bizarre ways, he is known as the Duke of Death. The death of his brother affects him the most, though, because it is widely rumored that he shot that man to death in a duel over a hussy. Since now he is a bad guy yadda yadda yadda, he decides to be a rake.

Elizabeth Montclair's father is a titled guy, but that's just because the King knighted her grandfather, a cobbler. The Ton is not willing to accept a cobbler's granddaughter, even if she is technically a member of the Ton. Now in her third Season, she is in those Must Marry for Family Monies situation.

These two aren't exactly strangers to each other, but it is only until when Lucien decides to try some silly games on Elizabeth and they both got compromised that they really find themselves married to each other. They say that this is a marriage of convenience. He says he will teach her to seduce other guys. She accepts his offer. And so they go.

Elizabeth and Lucien really work as a couple. This is one relationship where the two are really equally matched even if his sexual experiences are greater than hers. She sees through his nonsense right away as he hers, so the fun here is watching those two match each other wit by wit, brick by brick, until they eventually wear each other's defenses down. Ms Britton's lines and scenes can be really laugh-out-loud funny (I like Elizabeth's miserable first attempt at being sexy in an inn). Since both characters are smart enough to dish as well as receive repartee and barbs, I like reading their volatile courtship. The love scenes are pretty hot too.

But it's not all fluff though. The two of them really grow as characters, and Lucien learns to get over himself. Elizabeth is also a great heroine in that while she may start out like a stereotypical Regency-era heroine, she eventually shows that she has spine, brainpower, and only a little naive (and that's not often either). Unfortunately, the author uses a murder trial and more to bring out the melodrama. Elizabeth turns into Nancy Drew - an unconvincing one in an unconvincing mystery, alas. Lucien really comes alive during the last few chapters, but I have mixed feelings about that one: his character development is mired in over-the-top melodrama.

The over-the-top, rather implausible late chapters aside, I am struck by how much I like the whole Lucien and Elizabeth courtship. I find the author's pacing pretty good: she manages to get those two to become friends and fall in love among the humorous banters and some occasionally childish baiting, and while the denouement is over the top, the characters really grow and the emotional poignancy swirls fast and thick. I'm in heaven: here is a humorous romp with an emotional crux that resonates more than once with me.

Even when at her weakest, the author always had a lively style of humor that cannot be put down. Seduced is a wonderful result of what she could do on a really good day. I hope Ms Britton keeps this up. I could use a book to read.

Rating: 93

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