Love in the Time of Scandal
Having thoroughly enjoyed the two previous books in this series, Love and Other Scandals and It Takes a Scandal, I’ve been eagerly looking forward to this latest instalment, which features Penelope Weston and Benedict Lennox, both of whom appeared as secondary characters in the last book. While I enjoyed it very much, it didn’t quite reach DIK territory for me (as the other two did), although I’m not really sure why – it’s just as well written, it uses one of my favourite tropes (compromised-into-marriage) both central characters are well drawn and the hero is drop-dead gorgeous. There is, however, an element of the story that is unresolved at the end – I assume that Ms Linden will be addressing it in a future book – so while Penelope and Ben do get their HEA, perhaps that’s why this one missed the DIK shelf by a gnat’s whisker.
Penelope Weston is lovely, vivacious and outgoing, yet is feeling rather bereft following the recent marriages of her sister, Abigail, and their good friend Joan Bennett. In their absence, she strikes up a friendship with a young debutante, seventeen-year-old Frances Lockwood, and takes her under her wing, as well as maintaining her friendship with the widowed Olivia Townsend, who lives on the fringes of society.
Frances is pretty and has a dowry of twenty-thousand pounds, and Penelope, who is also an heiress, cautions her against falling for a fortune hunter, giving her pointers as to how to spot when a man is truly interested in her rather than just in her money. Lately, however, one particular young man has been paying his addresses to Frances, a very handsome, charming officer in the King’s Life Guards who is the son of an earl and who thus has no need of her money. Penelope thinks he sounds like a promising marriage prospect – until she learns that he is none other than Benedict Lennox, Lord Atherton – the man who at one time wanted to marry her sister and who, in the past, treated his former best friend (now her brother-in-law) Sebastian Vane very badly.
“She’d seen Atherton’s real measure when he persisted in pursuing her sister, Abigail, even when it was clear Abigail was in love with someone else. She’d known what the viscount really was when she learned he had allowed accusations of murder and theft to endure for years against Sebastian, without speaking a word of support or protest.”
At the beginning of their acquaintance, Penelope had been somewhat smitten with Lennox, and the attraction between them had seemed mutual – until Ben offered for Abigail having decided that her quieter, less adventurous nature made her perfect wife material. It’s fairly obvious that Penelope’s intense dislike is due to the fact that she’s still sweet on him, although of course she’d die rather than admit it. For his part, Benedict is still very much affected by Penelope’s beauty and attracted to her quick wit and sharp tongue, but is adamant that he doesn’t want a woman who will challenge him at every step. His life is difficult enough as it is, and he wants a gentle, docile wife who won’t cause him any trouble. He also wants to marry an heiress – as heir to an earl, he stands to inherit a considerable fortune and property, but at present is subject to the whims of his cruel, controlling father, and can only achieve his independence by marrying money.
When Penelope, in trying to help Olivia out of a difficult situation, becomes the subject of some truly vicious gossip, she finds herself facing complete social ruin. Having been present at the incident which caused it (although not responsible), Benedict offers marriage. After all, Penelope also has a large dowry and no matter how hard he tries to ignore it, he’s still strongly attracted to her – and thinks that perhaps he can turn the passion she seems to have been expending on hating him into something much more mutually pleasurable.
Enemies-to-lovers is another favourite trope when it’s done well, and that’s definitely the case here. Benedict and Penelope are perfect for each other and I love stories where it’s evident to everyone except the couple themselves that they’re besotted with each other. It doesn’t take Benedict long to admit that a demure, sensible wife would have bored him silly, or for Penelope to admit that she has misjudged him. The sparks fly whenever they’re together, and in the bedroom they’re explosive. Thanks to her reading of the scandalous pamphlets, 50 Ways to Sin Penelope isn’t afraid to ask for what she wants in bed, something which delights her new husband who is only too happy to indulge her naughtiest whims.
The emotional meat of the story, however, is found in the disclosure of the nature of Benedict’s relationship with his autocratic, unforgiving father, and in the way in which Penelope is able to learn to be less judgemental and more understanding, especially in situations where she doesn’t have all the facts. My heart broke for Benedict several times, in fact, as the truth of his situation came to light. In the last book, it was very clear that his father was a cruel despot who would stop at nothing to bring Ben to heel, including threatening his mother and sisters. Benedict despises himself for being unable to stand up to the Earl as much as he wants to, and truly regrets the way he was forced to act towards Sebastian; so while he wasn’t an especially sympathetic character in the last book, Ms Linden redeems him admirably here, and turns him into a wonderful hero.
Love in the Time of Scandal is an engrossing story that can be read as a standalone, although the other two books are excellent and well worth reading, too. Ms Linden writes with a great deal of wit and intelligence, all the characters are strongly drawn and the central romance is well developed with plenty of sexual tension between the leads and steamy love scenes. As I mentioned above, my one criticism is that there is one particular plot element left unresolved at the end, which I assume will be picked up in a future story, but otherwise, it’s a terrific book and one I’d certainly recommend most highly.