In the frozen Arctic tundra, Rachel Howland waits for explorer Noel Mangus to return from his hunt for missing millionaire Lord Franklin. Rachel has loved Noel forever and hopes he will propose marriage, for she will not share his bed unless she is his wife. Noel returns to the Ice Maiden without having found Franklin or the fabulous black opal he supposedly carries. Worse yet, he refuses to marry Rachel.

In her anger, Rachel takes the huge black stone her father found and leaves the Arctic for New York, posing as Noels widow when he again goes in search of Franklin. Rachel arrives in New York with no idea of what she will find. After adopting two urchins she heads for Noels home in the Hudson River Valley where she is welcomed as his widow and quickly adapts to her new life and social standing.

All would be well but for Noels return. Noel decides to make Rachel pay for keep-ing her knowledge of the opal a secret, by acknowledging her as his beloved wife, while he wears away her defenses. Meanwhile, Noels enemy, Edmond Hoar, has his own plans for Rachel and the opal, a scheme that does not include Noel.

Meagan McKinney creates a different kind of plot, sweeping readers from the Arctic to ballrooms and peopling the story with fascinating characters. Readers may find the action slow, and Noels stubbornness trying, but the magical prose, charming secondary characters and emotional intensity of the book are compelling. SENSUAL (Nov., 352 pp., $6.50—Hardcover published January 2000)

Reviewed by: 
Kathe Robin