cover image The Taste of Innocence

The Taste of Innocence

Stephanie Laurens, . . HarperCollins, $24.95 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-06-084086-0

The 14th novel in Laurens's bestselling Cynster series, set amid the glittering ton of early 19th-century England, does little more than preserve the family line. Charlie Morwellan, eighth earl of Meredith, admits it is time, with the "matchmakers perennially salivating," to shackle himself to a suitable, docile countess. But he swears he will never (as his father did, bringing the family to the brink of ruin) allow love to control him. He sets his sights on quiet Sarah Conningham, a childhood acquaintance, who has made up her mind, despite her family's protests, to settle only for a genuine love match. Charlie stubbornly tries to remain aloof—even as Sarah tries to compel him to admit his love for her. Meanwhile, a nefarious (and anonymous) land speculator has his sights on Sarah's land (where she operates a village orphanage) and manages to interpose himself between the couple. The plot moves briskly but with little tension, and the author introduces a variety of intriguing side characters (many of whom, like Devil Cynster, will be familiar to fans), only to whisk them quickly offstage. While the love scenes sizzle, Charlie and Sarah dispatch their conflict with little fanfare, and the villain's motives and actions are unconvincing. (Feb.)