Kat Martin. St. Martin's Press, $6.99 (325pp) ISBN 978-0-312-97944-7
Martin's (The Secret; Perfect Sin) strongly drawn portrait of two vulnerable people picking their way through the tangles of love is certain to please her fans. Upon the Earl of Greville's death in 1802, his newly legitimized bastard son, Justin Ross, inherits the Greville estates as well as Ariel Summers, a plucky girl who had pledged to become his father's mistress in exchange for schooling on how to be a lady. Though he has little interest in making Ariel consummate the bargain, when she finally graduates and comes to live with him, Justin finds his intentions skewed by his attraction to her bright spirit and his dislike of her friendship with his worst enemy. And despite Ariel's own determination to repay her debt without becoming Justin's mistress, she soon discovers her heart has different ideas. But Justin's mistrust of Ariel's loyalty and her fear that he is incapable of love threaten to pull the pair apart. Martin's villains aren't much more than cardboard, but Ariel and Justin push beyond the stereotypes of the fresh, innocent girl and the emotionally distant rake, fleshing out into nicely rounded characters. The narrative also displays an unusual sensitivity as it explores beyond a couple's hormonal compatibility and tackles the more complex wonder of enduring love. (May) Forecast: Sales in the contemporary romance/suspense field have exploded in recent years, and like many popular romance authors, Martin sagely alternates her offerings between historicals and contemporaries. But Martin's dedicated audience comes from her historicals, and this title will fare quite well.
Reviewed on: 05/14/2001