It’s been a while since I’ve read a romance novel, and I was feeling in the mood the past week, so I knocked out two from a couple of authors I tend to enjoy: Sarah MacLean and Tessa Dare.
A Scot in the Dark is the second novel in the Scandal and Scoundrel series by Sarah MacLean. The first was the similarly punny The Rogue Not Taken, and because I love a good pun (understatement of the year), I was already inclined to love this series. Nothing will ever match my love for MacLean’s Never Judge a Lady By Her Cover, but this series has been pretty solid so far.
Beautiful, orphaned, rich Lillian Hargrove met a talented artist and fell in love with him, happy to serve as his muse, thinking they would soon become engaged. She even sat for him nude; he promised the portrait would be just for them. But he lied, and he announces to the entire ton that he plans to reveal his work, “the greatest nude of our time,” at a special exhibition, at which point Lily knows she will be ruined. She’s well on her way there anyway, since all of society knows she is the subject of the painting. Then Alec, the new Duke of Warnick and still Lillian’s guardian (despite the fact that she’s well into her twenties) arrives in town, determined to help her recover from the scandal by marrying her off to a kind, respectable man. Alec is a Scot and wants nothing to do with the dukedom, which he was seventeenth in line for. Life has a way of throwing you curveballs.
Alec and Lily’s story is lovely. Lily insists on only marrying for love, and Alec insists he’s unworthy of her love, even after the two realize how they feel about each other. Like many of MacLean’s heroes, Alec has a heart-wrenching backstory that amply explains his seemingly irrational behavior. Lily herself is incredibly strong. She’s angry that she cannot just do what she wishes with her own money, and she’s angry that Alec is trying to prevent her from simply leaving the people who whisper about her and going to live somewhere else. She knows what people say about her, and she’s not entirely unashamed, but she’s also not really that apologetic about it, and she doesn’t have to be. She took a man she loved at his word, and the painting itself is truly lovely. MacLean calls this her sex-tape book, and the modern equivalent is something like that. Witnessing Lily and Alec fall in like, then love, then work through their respective troubles (sometimes apart, sometimes together) to achieve their happily ever after is incredibly satisfying. This is another winner from MacLean. (Justine Eyre narrates the audiobook, and while she’s still one of my favorite narrators, I thought her voice for Alec was pretty bad this time. I would probably recommend sticking to the print version.)
Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare shows that Dare just gets better with each book. Her early novels were a bit rough, but each subsequent novel has improved upon the last, and this is one of her best. It’s also one of her funniest, and I’ve always been a sucker for funny romance novels (Julia Quinn is the author who first hooked me on romance).
Charlotte Highwood has cornered Piers Brandon, the Marquess of Granville, in the library to tell him that she does not intend to marry him, despite what her notorious matchmaker mother might want. Except they are alone in the library, and when someone opens the door, Charlotte and Piers duck behind the draperies so they’re not spotted. It doesn’t matter that they were only talking; if they were discovered alone, people would assume the worst. The person who walks into the library is actually two people, and they soon commence upon a tryst upon the desk as Charlotte and Piers listen on, horrified (and amused). When a child alerts the adults at the party to the fact that there are strange noises coming from the library (“Murder!” he screams repeatedly), Charlotte and Piers are the only ones found inside, as the two lovebirds have already vacated it.
The adults know what the sounds mean, and it would seem that the only way to save Charlotte’s reputation is to marry Piers. Except that’s really not what Charlotte wants (at least not yet, as our two leads haven’t fallen in love). So she decides to find out exactly who was having a grand old time in the library, with just a couple of clues to go on: a unique perfume scent in the air and a fancy garter embroidered with a capital C. Piers had his own reasons for being in the library that evening – he’s a spy for the British crown, and while he wants to do the right thing by Charlotte and marry her (he’s falling for her, after all), he knows it would put her life in danger. But the two cannot seem to keep apart from each other, of course, and as Charlotte thinks she grows closer to the identity of the “tuppers,” there are also strange events that could be interpreted as attempts upon her life.
The mystery in the book is a light one, and not the primary focus. It’s mainly used to generate laughs, and it excels at this goal. The solution to the mystery lovers’ identity is a lovely one and a genuine surprise; Charlotte and Piers’ happily ever after is no surprise at all. Dare’s hero and heroine aren’t nearly as tortured as MacLean’s, and this is a much lighter read as a result. There’s a bit of danger, but mainly this book is just plain fun. Highly recommended.