In a genre long known for its rules and rigidity, Patricia Oliver soars to splendor as that rara avis, a writer of intelligence, wit and sensibility who knows just how to look beyond convention straight into the most secret corners of the heart.

All things considered, Lady Harriet Egerton is reasonably content as she declines gracefully into the life of a spinster, pouring her affections into her beloved roses and other horticultural pursuits on a small country estate. So why would she even be tempted to listen to her brother's utterly mad proposal for her to marry his best friend, a haughty earl who only wants a wife to put an end to his mother's matchmaking schemes?

It may not be the usual way to find a bride, but, as far as Giles Montague, Earl of Kimbalton, is concerned, it certainly would be convenient. In one fell swoop he can avoid a boring courtship of a simpering young miss, obtain a bride content to stay in the country while he meets his needs with his long-standing mistress in town, and secure the succession to boot. Of course the lady does have a lively spirit that does not always recognize his innate superiority

At first their marriage seems to go as planned. But the Earl finds his fiery new wife occupying more and more of his thoughts, as he grows increasingly restless in town. And then a chance encounter between mistress and wife changes everything

Nothing about this outstanding love story is at all predictable. All of it, however, is wonderful. Featuring a superior heroine who tames her arrogant husband with fire and grace, this marvelous reading experience is not to be missed under any circumstances. (May, 220 pp., $3.99)

Reviewed by: 
Melinda Helfer