THE MARRIAGE WAGER
Lord Colin Wareham returns from eight years of war disenchanted with life and bored with his circumstances. Emma Tarrent has just returned to England after seven years of marriage to a wastrel who gambled away her fortune and left her destitute, but determined to remain independent.
These two unlikely characters meet at a gaming hall where Emma spies a young man losing heavily to Wareham and challenges him to a wager for the promissory notes. Colin accepts, with one exception: he'll surrender the notes if she wins, but if he wins, she'll surrender herself.
Emma accepts and loses, but before Colin can collect on their wager, Emma's father bursts in and insists on their marriage. Though Emma opposes the idea, Colin convinces her that they are ideal for one another, and before she knows it, Emma is Colin's bride.
Throughout the early days of their marriage, Emma gains the respect of Colin's tyrannical mother, charms his family and manages to avert one scandal after another. The only problem is she has fallen in love with her husband and when an old acquaintance arrives, Emma is caught in his web of deceit.
Jane Ashford's lively, well-written Regency romance sparkles with wonderful dialogue, witty scenes and just the right touch of humor, adventure and repartee. She is most definitely a fresh voice who has a bright future. SENSUAL (Nov., 400 pp., $5.50)