Never Love a Scoundrel
Never Love a Scoundrel is the fifth book in Ms Burke’s Secrets and Scandals series. I confess that I haven’t read any of the earlier books in the series, but even though some of the characters from them either appear or are referenced, I didn’t feel at a disadvantage, as the information we are given is sufficient for this particular story to work as a standalone.
Jason Lockwood lives on the fringes of society, a man suspected of insanity and known for debauchery. Years earlier, his mother had some sort of mental breakdown in public and the gossip is that her son is just as mentally unstable, a rumour given substance by his frequent bursts of temper. Some time after removing his mother from London and making sure she is well cared for, Jason began hosting what have become infamous “vice parties”, initially as a way of staving off loneliness and later because he believed he wasn’t worthy of better society.
Of course, these parties are regularly attended by members of the ton, many of whom would cut Jason dead if they met him in the street; such is the level of hypocrisy running rife in society.
On hearing that his half-brother Ethan Jagger – now going by the name of Ethan Locke – has suddenly appeared in society squiring around a young widow, Jason is both intrigued and more than annoyed. He and Ethan are not well disposed toward each other to say the least, having fought so violently at their last meeting that Jason was left with a horrible scar running down one side of his face. Ethan had previously made his living as a thief-taker, and Jason is sure he can be up to no good. He’s also angry that his half-brother has the entrée into the society that has shunned Jason himself.
Venturing out to see if he can ascertain Ethan’s purpose, Jason meets Miss Lydia Prewett, the great-niece of the scourge of the ton, the inveterate gossip Margaret Rutherford. Lydia has lived with her aunt for the past six seasons, but has yet to make a match, principally because she is seen by most of society as an extension of her poisonous aunt. Margaret uses Lydia to acquire and circulate gossip, and although Lydia is tired of it and would stop if she could, it’s either live with Margaret and abide by her rules, or be sent back to live with her father in the wilds of Northumberland – a father who takes no interest whatsoever in his daughter.
Jason and Lydia meet accidentally, and each is intrigued enough by the other to hope for a second meeting. Unlikely though this is (as Jason does not move about in polite circles), the pair do encounter each other once again, this time at the home of the dearest friend of Jason’s mother. For Jason has decided that, if he’s to discover what his half-brother is doing out in society, then he needs to be mixing in the same circles, something he has not done for years. Lydia offers to help to re-introduce him to society and suggests he host a “normal” party, with food, music and dancing as a way to prove to the ton that he is not so black as he has been painted.
But Aunt Margaret has other ideas. She has borne a grudge against the Lockwoods for years and although she has nothing against Jason personally, she hates him and his entire family and is determined to bring him down. I have to say that she’s rather a lip-smacking villainess who borders on the cartoonish – I wanted to boo and hiss whenever she appeared in the story!
But as she’s helping Jason to plan his re-entry into society, Lydia also engages to help Ethan to repair his relationship with his half-brother. I think their shift from hatred and distrust to a grudging respect and eventually to the beginnings of a filial affection was one of the best parts of the book, and it has whetted my appetite for the next in the series which will feature Ethan as the hero.
However, Ethan is being watched closely by Scotland Yard, and by Daniel, Viscount Carlyle (who was the hero of the previous book.) Carlyle senses that Ethan is trying to change his ways but has no proof; and when he and Jason stumble upon something which indicates Ethan may be behind a series of recent robberies, it looks as though Ethan’s days as a free man are numbered.
While Jason is struggling with his anger at being duped by his brother and his sense of betrayal, he is also struggling with his feelings for Lydia, which he has realised go beyond simple lust – which they’ve already explored *wink*.
I liked that Jason wasn’t one of those heroes who feared commitment. He has concerns about the effect his reputation might have on Lydia’s standing in society, but once he decides he wants to marry her, Jason sticks to his guns and proposes. The problem is Lydia. She wants to marry him, but starts worrying about how she will continue to live in society as the wife of a known reprobate. (I’d have said she should have started worrying about her reputation after she slept with him, to be honest!) She also starts thinking that maybe his proposal wasn’t serious, even though she doesn’t have any real reason for that suspicion as Jason has always been honest with her. It seems that Lydia has spent so much of her life being proper and wanting to fit in, that when the time comes for her to take control of her life, she fails, hesitating at a key moment which leads Jason to believe she doesn’t care for him. He, on the other hand, has bared his soul and believes he has made a complete fool of himself.
I haven’t read any of Ms Burke’s other books, but I would certainly consider doing so in the future. This one was well written and the characterisation was consistent – even Lydia’s vacillations over Jason’s proposal and her lack of assertiveness (annoying though they were) made sense given what we know about her situation. Although I have to say that Jason wasn’t so much a ‘scoundrel’ as he was a man who had been shunned by society through no fault of his own and had therefore decided not to give a damn about what anyone thought of him any more. Never Love a Scoundrel was an entertaining story, in which the two plot threads were woven together in a way that didn’t leave me feeling as though I’d read two different stories that had been mashed together. What could have been a fairly ordinary romance was turned into a more engaging and rounded story overall by the addition of the subplot about Ethan Jagger/Locke and by the way in which Ms Burke developed the relationship between the half-brothers.
A word of warning though – although Jason and Lydia do get their HEA in this story, the book ends on a cliffhanger which leads directly into the next book (for which there is a short teaser at the end).