On the eve of a pivotal battle on the Peninsula campaign, Nicholas Tarleton joins a card game just as one of his men agrees to settle his debt by giving his daughter to the winner.

Julia Linchfield has followed the drum and, like a soldier, follows orders. Fate allows Nicholas to win the bet, and he is an honorable man who marries her as he lies near death.

Against her better judgment, Julia agrees to return to England, not knowing if Nicholas is alive. She battles his lawyer and suspicious family to take up residence at The Willows, where she becomes embroiled in the cottage owners fight to keep their homes and livelihoods.

For two years, Julia manages the estate with the help of her companion, Sophie, and Jack Harding. Then Nicholas returns without any memory of their marriage.

Though betrothed to a Spanish noblewoman, Nicholas soon realizes his deep attraction to Julia and refuses to annul the marriage. Before long they are lovers and though their relationship seems secure, they are drawn into the villagers problems and into the conflicts, jealousies and dangers that spring from Nicholas return.

Blair Bancroft has a nice touch for crafting three-dimensional characters. Shes taken incorporated many Regency plot elements in her story; perhaps one or two too many. Still, Ms. Bancroft has a clear voice and the potential to be another Mary Jo Putney or Mary Balogh. SENSUAL (www.starpublications.com, 340 pp., dl $3.95, cd $9.95)

Reviewed by: 
Kathe Robin