I don’t really read much Regency Romance, but I make an exception for Patricia Oliver. She transports me into the period in an authentic manner that doesn’t have this neophyte Regency Romance reader looking for the dictionary to understand Regency jargon. And, while the set-ups for her stories are not necessarily novel, the manner in which her characters conduct themselves is exquisitely geniune. Scandalous Secrets is no exception – it’s a story any lover of romance would keenly enjoy and it kept this romance reader up till the wee hours, finishing it in one sitting.
Lady Fanny was driven from England by a scandal that cost her her marriage, her reputation, and her family. She took refuge with her aunt and uncle, settling in India with them until her uncle died. After having taken over her uncle’s profitable shipping business, she and her aunt are on their return to Brighton when she uses her sword to prevent a thief from stealing a child’s purse. The child’s father is Colonel Sheldon, a widower who is returning on the same ship after four years in Portugal.
Lady Fanny is beautiful and unconventional (but not quirky or “cute”). Other than the fact that he obviously loves his child, she can find nothing to recommend the Colonel upon their meeting as he so obviously disapproves of her. He seems lacking in humor, standoffish, and a boor. The Colonel can’t seem to decide whether Fanny has designs on him or not, and even though he thinks she must be a typically foolish female, he is drawn to her beauty and an indefinable something, which surprises him to no end.
After an unexpected kiss, they go their separate ways to Brighton, until he rescues her – or thinks he does – from doing herself in on a cliff on a rain-filled evening. Fanny takes ill after he removes her to his estate, and the plan is to have her remain there until she recovers. Fanny fights this plan with humorous effect, but her illness prevents her from leaving the Colonel’s home. While recuperating, she comes to better know the Colonel, along with his sister Margaret, and Margaret’s suitor Sir Joshua. When Fanny’s aunt is notified of her illness, she too comes to stay with the Sheldons on their centuries-old estate.
But old scandals threaten Fanny, who decided years before to live her life alone. The Colonel, after a disastrous marriage, made a similar decision. Still, they are drawn to one another and Fanny must turn to him for protection after she is blackmailed by her very own brother and an old “family friend.” Fanny believes that though she is innocent of the charges made against her a decade before, no man would want her. Especially not the staid Colonel, to whom she feels a growing tendre. Truth be told, if the Colonel knew the truth at this point, he likely would have turned her away. But spending time with Fanny, seeing her quiet dignity, and watching how his sister relates to her, he softens his attitudes and he becomes Fanny’s stalwart protector.
Fanny and the Colonel are wonderfully rendered in this story. They are nicely complimented by Margaret, Sir Joshua, Fanny’s aunt, and Captain Jack, a long-time friend of Fanny and her aunt who also becomes a friend of the Colonel. I’d like to see author Oliver write a romance for him. The sole drawback to Scandalous Secrets is the underlying cause of Fanny’s scandal. Suffice it to say that, as is all too usual in historical romance, homosexual behaviour is the true villain of the story. This author is talented enough that she did not need to fall back on this stereotype. Indeed, by doing so she created too high a level of intricacy that was quite difficult to understand when tracing the roots of the scandal.
That flaw notwithstanding, this is a very good read. If, like me, Regency Romance doesn’t generally appeal to you, for this author you should make an exception. The period rings true, the characters seem flesh-and-blood while remaining true to the period, and the growing love between Lady Fanny and the Colonel is captured believably. While this is neither a romp nor a dark and depressing read, there is a strong balance of softly rendered light and dark moments. Regardless of your romance reading proclivities, I don’t recommend starting this book too late in the evening unless you want to wake up bleary-eyed the next morning because you’ll want to see how Fanny and the Colonel find their richly deserved happiness and get their happily-ever-after.