Scandalous Virtue is a romp of a historical romance set in the Regency which offers a twist on the old theme of the rake and the innocent. Here we have an incorrigible hero who needs to clean up his act and a respectable heroine who is determined to dirty hers.
Jack Ashecroft is both a war hero and a notorious rogue. After his grandfather’s death, the title went to Jack’s uncle, who suffered an unexpected demise, making Jack (the black sheep of the family) the new Marquis of Foxhaven. Unfortunately for Jack, his grandfather had foreseen the possibility of Jack’s succession and left in writing a last wish that Jack turn over a new leaf and make the family proud. Jack’s grandfather is one of only two men that Jack has ever truly loved and respected, and so he decides to do as his grandfather wished. However, to ensure that Jack not fall away from his newfound scruples, Jack’s grandfather also tied up much of the income of the estate in a trust fund to be signed over to Jack only after the austere family lawyer is satisfied that Jack’s change is permanent. Jack soon realizes that it isn’t easy to change society’s opinion of him, and in desperation decides to look for a prim and proper wife who can give him respectability.
Nessa Haughton, a young and beautiful widow, seems to be exactly what Jack needs. From a faultless line of respectable nobles, and fresh out of mourning for an elderly and ever-so-proper late husband, Nessa has all the right qualifications. There is only one small problem. Nessa is sick to death of being under the control of others, and is determined to throw off all rules the minute she finishes her mandatory year of mourning. She is also determined to remain unmarried, as her first marriage taught her well that marriage is nothing but slavery for the woman.
Jack, however, is not above using blackmail to convince Nessa to marry him, especially after receiving an urgent message from General Wellington requesting Jack’s services at the royal court in Paris. Jack knows he can’t withstand the temptations of that decadent environment unless he has a wife with him, so he pressures Nessa, who feels she has no choice after she witnesses her sister being snubbed by others when Nessa’s behavior at a ball brings censure. She decides it’s better to marry than to cause her sister’s social ruin, and Jack promises her that he will not rein her in if she will just help him establish a better reputation.
Jack and Nessa are wonderful characters – intelligent, lively, and warmhearted. Nessa takes no guff off anyone, yet maintains her grace and charm, and Jack is a lovable rogue. Once she marries Jack, Nessa leads him a merry chase, and her behavior threatens to undo all their hard work to bolster his reputation. Yet Jack responds in just the right manner. He loves her, but he doesn’t allow her to manipulate him. And just when it seems the story is over a plot twist at the end lends a touch of excitement.
Jack and Nessa are so well matched that the story conflicts seems a bit manufactured. They are refreshingly candid with one another, so it seems unlikely that admitting their love for each other should be as much a struggle as it becomes. A few of the plot twists are merely brushed over with little detail, and there are a couple of intriguing secondary characters I would have liked to see more fully developed. There is a detail concerning babies at the very end that is nearly impossible, but I won’t go into it for fear of spoiling things for potential readers.
These are minor complaints, however, in a book that offers memorable lovers in an enjoyable tale. Scandalous Virtue gets a definite thumbs up from me.