The Vicar's Daughter
by Deborah Simmons, historical (1995)
Harlequin Historical, $4.50, ISBN 0-373-28858-1

Tempting Kate
by Deborah Simmons, historical (1997)
Harlequin Historical, $4.99, ISBN 0-373-28971-5

The Vicar's Daughter and Tempting Kate are two of the books that complete a related (but can stand-alone) quartet that is also made up of The Devil Earl and The Last Rogue.

First off, The Vicar's Daughter. Charlotte Trowbridge is a nice, sweet vicar's daughter well-known for her stubborn nature. One day, the stiff-lipped Maximilian, Earl of Wycliffe, drops by her rowdy home and she falls head over heels in love with him. But she is a dreamer and he swears by the twin tenets of Punctuality and Routine. In short, apart from their shared passion in Greek mythology, they have very little in common.

Wycliffe is quite smitten however - those hair, those lips, those... er, never mind - and when he finds her in London for a Season, he isn't a happy man. Especially when the young bucks come sniffing around Charlotte, and blarmey him if he knows why he is so upset.

Now, TVCD has a wonderful first half. Charlotte's family really comes alive under Ms Simmon's skilful descriptive and lively prose. The author has a wonderful knack of describing charming little details such as the kids' food fight and the glutton of a befuddled brother-in-law that I, along with Wycliffe, can't help but to fall under the spell of the Trowbridge bunch.

Unfortunately, the story soon runs out of steam. Not that TVD is a bad book - the prose and vivid characters are so real that it brings a big grin to my face - but the fact that it soon loses steam makes my disappointment increases tenthfold. It's well written, but the last half just isn't worthy of the splendid first half. The whole story becomes bogged in repetitious montony - Wycliffe just wouldn't loosen up for too long, Charlotte's starry-eyed adoration of him soon becomes inexplicable. Oh well.

TVD, however, is one of the most fun books I've read, the lousy second half nothwithstanding. It gets an 83.

Tempting Kate, however, is a complete disappointment. Kate Courtland's sister Lucy is seduced by a man claiming to be the Marquis of Worth. Kate decides to dress up in her sexy highwayman costume and scares the useless man into doing good with Lucy, but ends up shooting him instead.

It gets more complicated - Grayson, the Marquis, has never seen Lucy before. As he recuperates, he and Kate starts seeing stars, and Grayson snatches at the chance of discovering who the lout using his name to seduce innocent women is to hang around. And when he realizes that Kate is a poor nobleman's daughter fallen to hard times, his protective instincts are aroused (among other things).

Unfortunately, while Grayson is a wonderful hero, Kate will do much better as the new ornamental rug in the Wroth manor than a romance heroine. She is giving and selfless to the point to - uhm, being not-too-bright. Lucy is so obviously in need of a dressing down, but no, Kate caters to her every whims like a misguided Cinderella. She readily believes that Grayson has the eyes for Lucy, and lo, she willingly prepares to step aside for Lucy's happiness!

It's always Lucy, Wroth, and Tom her loyal servant. Poor selfless Kate. It is one thing to be generous and kind, but this woman takes the whole giving thing a bit too far. She's a pushover, no match for anyone - in fact, she's a free-for-all for all opportunists.

Kate's willingness to let the others test out the soles of their boots on her back soon overrides whatever plot elements that are fun in TK. Seeing her pampering Lucy makes my blood pressure soar to new heights. Lucy's the smart woman here, I say. And she even gets an adoring hubby! Kate gets her virile man, but she really has to work to get there. Poor Kate.

TK is a bit off compared to the excellent standards the author has set with her great style, I'm afraid. I have a hard time finishing it without gritting my teeth and wishing I can just get my claws around Kate's neck and shake some sense into her. Strangling - er, Tempting Kate gets a 69.

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