Kat Martin, Malachi Martin, . . Mira, $7.50 (416pp) ISBN 978-0-7783-2125-5

According to the legend of the exquisite diamond-and-pearl bride's necklace belonging to Tory Whitting's noble family, it brings its wearer, if pure of heart, untold happiness—or it could bring untold tragedy. When her lecherous stepfather, Baron Harwood, attempts to molest her younger sister, Claire, Tory steals the heirloom to pay for their escape to London. Disguised as a servant, Tory becomes a housekeeper for Cordell Easton, the earl of Brant, who's well known for his womanizing ways. Cord is initially drawn to Claire's ethereal beauty, but Tory's intelligence and impudence intrigue him, so much so that he asks her to be his new mistress. Though tempted, Tory refuses, but when Harwood arrives to claim his stepdaughters, she and Cord are forced into a more permanent bond. Their marriage is as tense as the chess game they play, but Tory's inability to be up-front with her past and her emotions, as well as her constant attempts to manipulate and deceive Cord (always with good intentions, of course), can grow wearisome. Fortunately, however, Martin (Heartless , etc.) adroitly balances the passion and intrigue in this fast-paced Regency, and provides vibrant characters, a swashbuckling prison escape and a satisfying resolution of the necklace legend. (Jan.)