Patricia Oliver gives a bravura performance as she tames one of her most marvelous rakes for our great reading pleasure.

It was a monstrous wager indeed. Robert Stilton, Marquess of Monroyal, is willing to bet 10,000 pounds that he will remain a bachelor. Not for him, a virgin bride -after all, with five brothers, who needs one more heir?

"Never challenge fate" is a lesson Monroyal painfully learns whenhis pursuit of a flirtatious society beauty accidentally compromises a lady of sterling virtue. There is nothing for it but to offer Lady Pamela his hand in marriage, despite the fact that she is the daughter of his late father's bitter enemy.

Lady Pamela has her own ideas about marriage and is not about to bow to parental pressure. But even she cannot withstand the forces of society once the incident is made public; within a very short time she is whisked off to one of Monroyal's remote estates to languish in an unconsummated marriage.

Fate, however, is not finished with Monroyal and throws him into the company of his unwanted wife. Will the marquess lose his heart at last?

The always superlative Ms. Oliver sets our senses ablaze in this passionate duel of hearts that will make you sigh with utter delight. (May, 240 pp., $4.99)

Reviewed by: 
Melinda Helfer