Scandal of the Season
I’m more than willing to admit that I am a sucker for a damaged hero. Give me emotional baggage, physical ailments, mommy issues – I’ll take it. But I do have one minor preference when it comes to damaged heroes: I like to know about their issues up-front.
Anthony Westfield, Viscount Somerton, has some serious mommy issues. When he was a child, his father told him that his mother died in an accident, and he was devastated by the loss. As a young man, he found out that his mother was still alive in what may be the most awkward possible situation: his friends brought him to a brothel to sow his wild oats, and he discovered that his mother was the madam. Reconciling his newfound reality with the memory of his late, sainted mother proved a little too difficult, so Westfield got extremely drunk and seduced a beautiful young orange-seller/pickpocket who happened to be his fantasy woman. But when he wakes up (hung over, of course), she’s gone, and he has a new reality to deal with – a reality where his mom is alive, but she’s running a house of ill repute.
Fast forward ten years. Westfield is still a bachelor, haunted by his encounter with the orange-seller. He’s made his peace with his mother, and bides his time working as a spy for the crown. Everyone wants him to marry and produce an heir, because he’s getting older (and so is his father), but he still can’t forget the woman of his dreams. Then he encounters Victoria Seaton, who runs a home for children, which she funds by pickpocketing. Victoria picks Westfield’s pocket, and Westfield not only catches her, he recognizes her as his orange-seller. Victoria’s reputation would be destroyed if Westfield turned her over to the authorities, and the children in her care would have nowhere to go. Westfield may be hardened by life, but he’s not about to turn needy children out onto the street, so he makes a bargain with Victoria: she’ll act as his mistress for a holiday party on a country estate, and he’ll forgive and forget. Westfield needs a way to get into the party – he’s trying to foil a plot to assassinate the Prince Regent – and he’s not the type of man who keeps a mistress.
The party is full of the usual Regency romance suspects: the sleazy guy who tries to seduce the heroine against her will, the too-pretty-by-half mistress who has a dark secret, the former mistress and her nobleman husband who have defied the ton and somehow made their marriage work. But this party is much more about the tension between Westfield and Victoria than anything else, and they spend their time avoiding each other. Ten years has altered the way Westfield thinks about his encounter with Victoria, and he sincerely believes that he violated her – and he cannot forgive himself for that. Victoria feels like a criminal, even though she acts only to protect the children in her care. But they have to fake a sexual attraction to keep their ruse going, and being forced to spend time around each other also forces them to face their problems and sort out the truth of their relationship from the fiction.
While there’s a Christmas theme, it’s not overwhelming or all-encompassing – it just happens to be that time of year. Christmas during the Regency wasn’t the all-out six-week shopping and decorating event that it is now, so the theme is pretty low-key. Ms. Kelly gives some subtle explanations of various Regency Christmas traditions by way of conversations between characters, which shows that she’s done her research on the topic.
I admit that I was worried that Victoria would end up being a prissy-perfect heroine. Think about it: she’s a pickpocket – but only so she can take care of orphaned street children! She’s friends with bluestockings and brothel owners! But Victoria has spunk and a mind of her own, and she comes through for Westfield when he needs her the most, but only on her own terms. And Westfield is just damaged enough to be appealing, but not so damaged that he has an unscalable mountain of baggage that makes everyone around him miserable.
My one gripe is that the ending was a little far-fetched, but with appealing characters and an enjoyable love story, I can forgive an ending that was a little too action-packed. The series will continue with the story of Sophie Reynard, Westfield’s half-sister, who has made a name for herself as a matchmaker.