One of the genre's most acclaimed new talents diverts us with a rollicking adventure that turns into an outstanding love story.

The Earl of Northbridge is accustomed to being in command. Always calm, cool and collected, he is a man dedicated to duty and responsibility. And so it is that he assumes the task of sorting out the rightful heir to the neighboring estate of Thornwynd. Is it the young boy presented by his greedy uncle? Or is it really the young man whose arrival is announced in a letter brought by an old family retainer?

Someone, however, means the second young man harm and dispatches a variety of rogues and rascals to intercept the lad on his journey. Fortunately, the young man has a protector, the wily Jack, to keep him safe. And Jack has no intention of following orders from an arrogant earl, even if underneath the masculine disguise beats a feminine heart who finds the handsome gentleman quite irresistible.

Ms. Martin creates sparkling interplay between sharp, original characters for our complete delectation in this stylish duel of hearts. (Sept., 248 pp., $4.50)

Reviewed by: 
Melinda Helfer