Scandalous Ever After
I’ve heard a lot of great things about Theresa Romain’s historical romances from fellow reviewers here at AAR. So, when I saw Scandalous Ever After, book two in the author’s Romance of the Turf series, I was eager to give it a try, and I’m so glad I did. Ms. Romain’s writing contains many of my favorite things in a historical romance: smart banter, a heroine who isn’t afraid to stand up for herself and her beliefs, and sensuality that practically makes my iPad sizzle. The fact that the hero conducts himself very well is a plus, too.
Although this is the second book in a series, it stands perfectly well on its own. Having said that, I plan to pick up book one, A Gentleman’s Game, really soon, as I’m eager to see how things got started.
Kate, the widowed Countess of Whelan, is returning home to Newmarket for the first time since her husband’s death two years earlier. Her mourning is complete, and she must now turn her attentions to saving her son’s ancestral holdings. Kate’s late husband, Con, was something of a wastrel, content to live far beyond his means, and unwilling to take his marriage vows seriously. After his death, the local magistrate bought up Con’s debts, and now expects Kate to pay him an exorbitant amount of money before year’s end, something she’s unable to do. Con was never a great provider for his wife and young children, so Kate is hoping her father will able to help her out of the situation she now finds herself in.
While she’s in Newmarket, she attends a lecture about false antiquities given by her long-time friend Evan Rhys. She hasn’t seen Evan since the day of Con’s death, and she’s more than a little hurt by his long absence. Even so, she’s willing to put the past behind them, if only Evan can be persuaded to be part of her life again.
Evan is shocked to see Kate in the audience. He’s secretly loved her since the day Con – his best friend – introduced them. He believes he has hidden his feelings well, but without Con to act as a buffer, he didn’t think it wise to spend time with Kate and the children. Plus, he and Con argued on the day of the latter’s unfortunate riding accident, and Evan harbors some guilt over the harsh words they exchanged. But once he’s face-to-face with Kate, Evan realizes he can’t keep his distance from her any longer. Now that her husband is no longer in the picture, might Evan have a chance to win Kate’s heart?
Evan and Kate quickly fall back into their old relationship. Kate is glad to have Evan in her life again because no one, not even her late husband, knows her the way Evan does, and she can use all the support she can get in these very difficult times. Evan wants to be more than a friend to Kate, but he knows he’s got to take his time wooing her.
It soon becomes apparent to the reader that Evan is interested in more than simple antiquities. He’s hot on the trail of a smuggling ring, and, hoping to find answers in Ireland, he agrees to accompany Kate back to Whelan House as he has reason to believe the smugglers are operating somewhere near there. He also offers to help Kate out of her financial difficulties, something her father is unable to do, but Kate refuses his offer of help, unwilling to depend on anyone but herself to save her young son’s birthright.
Once Kate and Evan set foot on Irish soil, it’s obvious there’s something more than smuggling going on near Kate’s estate. In fact, Evan uncovers information that points to Con’s death being something other than the riding accident everyone claims it to be. Alarmed, but determined to get to the bottom of things, Kate and Evan join forces to uncover the truth, putting themselves directly in the path of grave danger.
There were times I was quite exasperated by Kate’s behavior. Her desire to stand on her own two feet is admirable for the most part, but it causes her to push Evan away on several different occasions. Luckily, Evan is a patient man, and Kate is eventually persuaded to let him in, but it takes her quite some time to get there. She spends far too much time remembering her marriage to Con and how it turned sour, and it almost seems as if she expects Evan to treat her just as shabbily as Con had. She seems to have trouble realizing that, even though Evan was Con’s closest friend, he’s a totally different man, who had, in fact, had had words with Con about his ill treatment of Kate several times over the thirteen years of their marriage. Once Kate decides to admit her love for Evan, things go quite a bit more smoothly, but this doesn’t happen until pretty close to the novel’s end.
The mystery element of the story works well to help Kate realize just how much she cares for Evan. The more she learns about Con’s last days, the more she comes to understand just how different Evan is, and when a sinister plot threatens to take everything she holds dear, Kate is forced to make some difficult decisions about her future.
I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more of a confrontation between Kate, Evan, and the villains, because what actually happens is almost anticlimactic. Sure, the mystery is solved, but it’s a little too neat and tidy for my taste. Even so, Scandalous Ever After was a super enjoyable read, and I definitely plan to check out the author’s backlist.