Victoria Alexander, . . Avon, $6.99 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-06-051762-5

Still unwed at 24, outspoken Cassie Effington has strict standards for her suitors, and she's well aware that the polished charm of handsome rakes like Lord Berkley often disguises a lack of substance. But when Cassie undertakes the refurbishment of Berkley's townhouse, sparks fly between the two, and Berkley realizes he'll have to prove to her that there's more to him than just his good looks and glib manner. Alexander's newest Regency-era romance (after The Lady in Question ) is pleasantly written and brimming with fun screwball elements such as a wager between Berkley and Cassie to find the other's perfect spouse, but it falls short on tension and depth of character. Cassie's fear that a charming rake could lure her into scandal holds her back from trusting Berkley, but why she's bent her life around this fear is never explained persuasively, making her resistance seem more stubborn than sensible. After Cassie dismisses this fear, inevitability descends, leading to a sluggish second half. Rigid in her opinions and unhappy when proven wrong, Cassie can be unsympathetic. Although Berkley declares he wants a bride with spirit, readers will wonder why he's chosen one who is so headstrong and mistrustful. Agent, Meg Ruley. (June )