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Claustrophobic Regency romance--hardworking but mostly devoid of sparkle. Handsome rake Lord Sherworth is tricked by his saucy, matchmaking stepmum into paying a visit to stepmum's granddaughter Vescinda--who lives with useless Papa in the country, having sworn to watch over her flaky cousin Freddy's estate until he's sown his wild oats. When Sherworth arrives, however, and realizes that Vescinda is not (as reported) idiotically in love with Freddy, he's furious at what seems to be a conspiracy: ""you're about as tempting a tidbit as I've ever clapped eyes on, but there's not a nope in hell that I'll marry you!"" And Vescinda, who's never been kissed, is at first put off by Sherworth's earthy style. But soon the two are striking sparks, of course--debating Lady Hamilton's morals, trading quips, horsing about (he saves her from a rampaging stallion)--and Vescinda finds herself jealous of insufferable neighbor Liza Wildborne, who's making a shameless play for Sherworth. A happy ending seems to approach: Vescinda is relieved of any duty to Freddy's estate when her competent Aunt Chloe decides to wed her papa; and Sherworth proposes at last. . . without even having taken that big First Kiss. Unfortunately, however, first-novelist Freemen then strings things out artificially for another 100 pages or so: vengeful Liza gets wind of the proposal and (implausibly) convinces Lord S. that Vescinda really hates him. So the lovers have a spat, head separately for London (Vescinda has two suitors, Sherworth reactivates a mistress), and talk out their relationship ad infinitum before finally admitting mutual bliss. The basic Cartland set-up--the rake and the virgin--is only slightly brightened here by Vescinda's willingness to engage in chat full of veiled sexual references; and Freemen's efforts at frothy Heyeresque repartee rarely score. Talky and skimpily plotted--just-passable fare for Regency addicts only.

Pub Date: Dec. 12th, 1980
Publisher: St. Martin's