Desert Isle Keeper
It Takes a Scandal
Caroline Linden follows up one of my favourite books of last year, Love and Other Scandals with another beautifully written, character-driven romance which, while loosely linked to the earlier book, is very different in tone. In it, we become reacquainted with Abigail and Penelope Weston, and, of course, privy to more of the sexual exploits of the scandalous and mysterious Lady Constance, purveyor of smut to well-bred and curious young ladies in her equally scandalous publication, 50 Ways to Sin.
It’s always quite refreshing when characters in novels come from stable, loving backgrounds, and it’s obvious that Abigail and her siblings come from just that sort of family. Her parents clearly adore each other and want the best for her, and at the beginning of the story have moved from London to Richmond for the summer. Mr. Weston makes no secret of the fact that he hopes that having a house in such an excellent locale will enable his daughters to make matches which will elevate their social status – because while the family is very rich, Mr. Weston is a “Cit”, someone who has made his money rather than being born into it, which means that the family can never gain entry to the highest echelons of society – unless they marry into it.
Abigail and Penelope are close, but very different in temperament, reminding me a little of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Penelope wants excitement and adventure, whereas Abigail is of a quieter disposition, quite happy with her own company and a good book.
Not long after they have moved into Richmond, Abigail meets their neighbour, Mr. Sebastian Vane, a handsome but strangely reticent young man to whom she feels strongly drawn. The attraction is mutual – even stronger on his side, perhaps – but Sebastian, knowing he has nothing to offer this lovely young woman, resolves to keep his distance.
Sebastian is the book’s heart – a lovely beta hero who has maintained his dignity in the face of ridicule and censure. Returned from the war with a debilitating injury to his leg, he discovered that his father’s mind was failing him and that in his weakened state he had sold off huge tracts of his land for next to nothing, leaving them barely solvent. One night not long after his return, Sebastian’s father disappears, never to be seen again. Rumours quickly circulate that Sebastian has murdered him; that he is just as mad as his father and, when a large sum of money disappears from the home of Lord Stratford – a neighbour and father of Sebastian’s boyhood friend – that Sebastian is a thief.
With no way of proving his innocence, and very little to live on, Sebastian withdraws from society, more or less content to live as he must – frugally, and solitarily. But meeting Abigail changes all that in an instant. He doesn’t want to fall in love – but he can’t help himself. He knows that if he is to win his lady, he is going to have to eschew his reclusive existence, something Abigail senses is difficult for him, and which she values accordingly.
Abigail and Sebastian make a perfect couple. Her liveliness is a lovely counterpoint to his reserve, and the way she gradually draws him out of his shell is lovely to watch. I will admit to a weakness for a brooding, wounded, wronged hero – so I adored Sebastian, but one of his most attractive qualities is that he never gives in to self-pity or behaves outrageously as a way of thumbing his nose at the local inhabitants. He’s always a perfect gentleman, exuding a quiet confidence which is very attractive.
Ms. Linden develops the romance beautifully, showing the deepening emotional connection between the couple through their interactions and their ability to understand each other in an instinctual way. Now, that is my kind of romance. There’s a gentle humour to many of their exchanges, together with a great deal of tenderness, and a delicious, simmering sexual tension.
When Sebastian’s one-time friend, Benedict Lennox, Lord Atherton, returns home and is immediately smitten with Abigail, Sebastian realises that he must try, once more, to clear his name and restore his reputation if he is to have any real chance of winning her. The mystery over the disappearance of his father and the stolen money is wrapped up neatly (perhaps a little too neatly) and in such a way as not to overshadow the romance or disrupt the flow of the story.
It Takes a Scandal is a beautifully written and charming romance which features an absolutely gorgeous hero cast from a slightly different mould to so many of the other romantic heroes around today. The characterisation of the two principals is excellent and the cast of secondary characters is well-developed, too, especially Abigail’s sister, Penelope, who is gradually revealed to have a greater depth to her personality than I had at first thought. I enjoyed the book immensely and have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who enjoys a heartfelt, emotionally satisfying and sensual romance.