A Scandalous Proposal
Grade : B+

The plot of Julia Justiss' second book is reminiscent of Mary Balogh's More than a Mistress, with a touch of Lisa Kleypas' Where Dreams Begin thrown in. This is no way detracts from the story's appeal. In fact, though the first part of the story happens a little too abruptly, it was more believable in its set-up than Mistress. And though I enjoyed all three books, A Scandalous Proposal was my favorite. Right about now, a lot of you are probably thinking "them is fightin' words." I'll accept that, but ask that you hear (or read) me out.

Emily Spenser is the widow of an army officer whom she loved very much. Because she is attempting to keep her son out of the clutches of his emotionally abusive grandfather, she is forced to fend for herself. To that end, she has given up any hopes of socializing with the ton and has instead opened a millinery shop. Though she is struggling, she is making ends meet - until the local heavy threatens her. If she doesn't pay protection money, her shop, and her livelihood, will be endangered.

Evan Mansfield, Earl of Cheverley, is witness to the extortion and immediately jumps in to offer Emily help. He's come to the shop to pick up a hat for his mother and is instantly attracted to the beautiful shop owner. Though Emily knows that his offer will probably have strings attached, she feels she has no choice but to accept his assistance. Evan is definitely seeing her as a potential mistress, but he never suggests that she owes him. It's Emily who decides to take control of the situation and give him what he wants. Her fear of exposure leads her to offer herself to Evan. She knows that he's not going to leave her alone, and the longer he hangs around the greater the likelihood of exposure grows.

This all happens in the first forty pages of the book and as a set-up feels both a little rushed and pretty realistic. Emily is attracted to Evan, but she suggests sleeping with him as a practical matter, not from any romantic impulses. Evan is the one whose feelings are overriding his judgment. He doesn't know Emily's background and therefore views her only as a potential mistress, yet his intense feelings for her make him question every step he's taking in their relationship.

The beauty of A Scandalous Proposal is that neither of the participants in this affair get what they bargained for. Emily hopes that a short liaison with this aristocrat will make him lose interest and leave her to retreat back into anonymity. Evan thinks this will simply be a passionate affair that will run its course. The two are entirely likable, and their growing love is wonderful in its realism. I believed that these two would love each other.

Another area in which Ms. Justiss excelled was in the problems she throws in the path of the lovers. These problems include miscommunication and bad timing and a lesser author would have written them as the Big Misunderstanding. In Julia Justiss' hands, they add up to conflict that was heartbreaking, and I'll say it again, believable. When Evan realizes that he wants much more from the relationship then an affair, he finds himself trapped by a promise he made to a friend. Evan's promise leads him to propose to another woman; his mother's concern causes more problems. Emily's reaction to the news is not one of your typical "I hate you now" speeches. Instead she makes a decision that may hurt, but is honorable. These two cannot get their lives in synch and it's causing them major heartache.

The story did lose me a little bit when a subplot took over. Evan ended up on a mission that came out of nowhere. The results of that mission are meant to have an impact on Emily and Evan's future, but it wasn't necessary and it took the reader out of the main thread of the book. In fact, because of what happened to Evan, the resolution of the romance is more along the lines of tried-and-true, rather than keeping up the original tone that permeated the rest of the book.

This novel works a little better for me then the other two mentioned because of the pacing. Though I enjoyed Where Dreams Begin, I thought the conclusion was drawn out, and conversely Mary Balogh's latest had such an abrupt climax that I was left emotionally hanging. Don't get me wrong, all three are good reads, but I would give the edge to A Scandalous Proposal. Julia Justiss is nowhere near as well known as the other two authors, but I hope that she will be.

 

Reviewed by Jane Jorgenson
Grade : B+

Sensuality: Hot

Review Date : November 14, 2000

Publication Date: 2000

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