A Winter Scandal
I struggled to finish this book because this is a contemporary book, with a walllpaper historical background. The clothing, mode of transportation, and attitude toward illegitimate babies are the only items that truly have an historical feel.
Althea Bainbridge, Thea, never dreamed her life would be so mundane. She long ago accepted her lack of beauty and plainness, but being a spinster at twenty-seven and living with her vicar brother is hardly fulfilling. However, the arrival of Lord Morecombe has the village of Chesley and Althea in a tizzy. Ten years ago, at the wedding of a distant cousin, she met Lord Morecombe whom her hostess introduced as an acceptable partner to a wallflower. Knowing that Gabriel is only doing his duty made her tetchy, which in turn entertained him. After the dance Gabriel swept her off to the garden and they shared a brief kiss. This kiss fuelled a young girl’s dreams, so it is devastating now that Gabriel shows no sign of recognition.
Haranguing herself for even thinking that their kiss might have mean something to him, her opinion of him as a wastrel is solidified when she catches him, looking disheveled and unkempt, galloping toward his home in the early morning hours. Soon afterwards she finds a baby in the Christmas manger, and upon undressing him finds pinned to his diaper a brooch matching Lord Morecombe’s signet ring. Incensed at his callous disregard for his own child, she storms off to the Priory, carrying the infant.
Gabriel Morecombe is quite taken back when some half-dressed woman, looking like a doxy, claims the babe in her arms is his child. But after she shows him the brooch, a gift he gave to his sister who disappeared over a year ago, he has to consider that she might be in the village, and this could be her child. Excited about the first clue in a year-long search for his sister, Gabriel agrees to assume responsibility for the child. But Thea balks at this because she has become attached to Matthew, as she calls the baby. Plus, there is no possible way that Gabriel could care for a young child. As Gabriel and Thea spend more time together, looking for the individual who abandoned the child, their sexual attraction grows. Thea knows that Gabriel could never be hers, but she is willing to settle for what he is willing to give her now.
My exasperation with the premise only grew as I read more of the story. The author spends almost twenty pages telling the reader how plain and unremarkable Thea is, with her dowdy clothing and tightly plaited hair. But her transformation from a drab, frumpy woman to an extremely attractive one happens in an instant. All it takes is for Matthew to pull out her fichu, exposing her chest, and a walk which brings a flush to her face and causes her hair to fall down.
Then, Thea casts off her vicar’s daughter’s comportment, disregarding concerns about her reputation and other risks, reminding me more of a contemporary heroine than an historical character. Her carelessness seems especially ill-advised in the face of Matthew’s possible illegitimacy. This applies equally to Gabriel, who doesn’t consider the risks either.
It is not that this is a horrible book, but it lacks sparkling dialogue, a unique premise, and realism about the time period. I can see this book as a comfort read for some readers, but other than that, I don’t recommend it.