Love with a Scandalous Lord
I’ve heard so very, very many good things about Lorraine Heath that it was with high expectations, indeed, that I approached my first book by the author. To my surprise, my reactions were complicated and far more mixed than I anticipated. Frankly, while I appreciated the author’s steady hand and willingness to tackle dark and complicated emotions, I was also distracted by her reliance on some very familiar plotting, a distressing tendency to hedge her bets when it comes to some of her characters’ less appealing qualities, and the largely melodramatic flavor of much of the goings-on.
Rhys Rhodes, the new Marquess of Blackhurst, has led, to put it mildly, a bit of a complicated life. Long estranged from his family, the death of his much-despised older brother has left him as the unexpected heir to the family’s ducal title. Ambivalent about his heritage and convinced that he is so foul a human being that no woman could ever love him, Rhys defies the wishes of his mother and summons to his father’s deathbed his long absent illegitimate son.
That estranged son is Grayson Rhodes (the hero of the author’s A Rogue In Texas) who arrives at the duke’s estate with his family – and, most specifically, his stepdaughter Lydia – for the reunion with the father who long ago rejected him. Grayson and his wife are understandably apprehensive about the visit, but to Lydia, filled with visions of balls and handsome noblemen, the trip is the opportunity of a lifetime and Rhys himself the embodiment of her romantic dreams.
The jaded Marquess finds himself equally taken with the beautiful young woman from Fortune, Texas. But the complications of his life – Rhys has made his living in London as the mysterious “Gentleman Seducer” – leave him convinced from the very first moment that Lydia deserves someone far more worthy than he could ever be. Of course, that doesn’t stop him from giving into his weakness for the bright and spirited Lydia and, without going into details, let’s just say that all his good intentions lead him down the road to you know where.
So, despite his feelings for Lydia and the approval of his own father before his death, Rhys resolves to protect Lydia from himself by helping her find a husband in London. But, not surprisingly, the mature and self-aware Lydia knows the truth and strength of her feelings for Rhys and is far from willing to comply with the plans of the man she loves.
Ms. Heath is a vivid writer and she very much made me believe in the passionate love between Rhys and Lydia – their love scenes, especially, are both torrid and very, very sexy. I also have to say that as someone (like many of us) who’s dreamed of attending a London ball from almost the first moment I could I read, I identified with both Lydia’s awe at her surroundings and her eagerness to be accepted. What I found less appealing were the melodramatic touches that found their way into virtually every aspect of the story. For instance, Rhys’ mother isn’t subtly evil or infuriatingly condescending: instead, she shrieks and hisses. His now dead older brother wasn’t simply unpleasant, he was unspeakably evil and possessed of what seems to be every despicable quality it’s possible for a person to have.
And that leads to one of my quibbles. Based on the fact that he knew full well the evil nature of his late brother, I found it somewhat problematic that Rhys doesn’t really question the fact that his family so eagerly blames him for the injustice he allegedly did both that brother and his wife or, even worse, that because of it he believes himself to be a soul beyond all redemption. In fact, when Grayson justifies not taking Rhys with him to Texas years earlier by saying that he believed Rhys’ place was with his family, Rhy’s replies: “My place has been in hell.” Maybe, but was just a bit of it a hell of his own making?
Especially since not everything in this book is as it appears. While I can’t go into details for fear of spoilers, I can say that despite all the emotional explosions and the “I’m not worthy” histrionics, everything is eventually wrapped up in a sequence of events that struck me as both convenient, pat, and far too familiar. I think it’s terrific when an author boldly gives her hero or heroine characteristics that may not be appealing to some of her audience, but isn’t it also important to do so honestly?
But, in the final analysis, even though I’ve read variations on this story more than a few times before, Love With A Scandalous Lord is an above average – but not spectacular – European Historical. Maybe my expectations were too high or perhaps Lorraine Heath isn’t really for me, but I’m certainly going to try one of her DIKs before I make any final decisions.