Scoundrel In My Dreams
As I read the first few chapters of this book, I was enthralled. Celeste Bradley, I thought, where have you been all my life? A charming young man turned tortured war hero engaging in a sex-filled night with the little sister of his mean love interest through a case of mistaken identity is right up my drama-loving alley. Add to this, prose just as dramatic and lush and angst-filled as the characters themselves and I didn’t want the novel to end. However, as the story progressed, some events occurred that spoiled my otherwise complete enjoyment and when the book ended, I had been entertained – but not overly so.
Lord John Redgrave returned from war without his cousin. That death made him heir to the Marquis of Strickland, but Jack is so overcome with guilt that all vestiges of his former carefree and witty self have vanished. Despite this, he still wishes to marry his unofficial fiancée Amaryllis Clarke. Before he’d left for war they’d come to an understanding, but a dour Jack isn’t what Amaryllis had in mind for a husband, and she shirks off their private agreement easily. Jack is shocked because the night before, they’d made sweet love in his bedroom and as far as he’s concerned, she’s been compromised. Neither Amaryllis nor her parents appreciate him casting aspersions on her virginal innocence, and he’s physically thrown out of the house. Even more depressed now, Jack sets off for the next three years on the high seas, speaking little and still embroiled in his own nightmares.
Meanwhile, Amaryllis’s little sister Laurel can’t believe that Jack has still gone ahead and proposed to her awful older sister, even after the amazing night they’d shared. When she watches him kicked out, she’s disconsolate. When her parents find out she’s pregnant and she refuses to name the father, she finds herself under house arrest. Drama!
Flash forward three years and we learn that a precocious baby girl has been deposited at the doorstep of a gentleman’s club with three possible fathers. The first two men have come to realize in two previous books that as darling as she is, Melody isn’t theirs to claim. Now we’re faced with a household full of old codgers and staff who’ve fallen in love with a baby and are praying that the last hope to keep Melody as forever theirs can pull himself together enough to find the mother and confirm she belongs to him. The probability of a happy ending seems low however, because Jack, freshly back from the high seas, barely speaks to anyone and more often than not, seems lost to even himself. However, that changes when he sees Melody and knows immediately that she is his daughter. Jack begins to awaken once more.
When Amaryllis decries any responsibility towards Melody, I spared a quick thought that she could have shown something other one-dimensional meanness, but it wasn’t a deal-breaker, especially as Laurel soon shows up, bringing enough drama with her to keep me occupied. Her parents (right up there with Amaryllis in being mean to the bone) had not just kept her locked up, but lied to her and said her daughter had died in childbirth. When she sees Jack leave the house with a black haired, blue eyed three year old, she believes the worst and feels betrayed by all those she’d thought close to her. She rushes over to Jack’s club to confront him, take her child and escape to a foreign land.
So, at this point I had been devouring every last word of Scoundrel In My Dreams. I wanted Jack and Laurel to fall in love already while at the same time I didn’t want it to end. This sort of hyper-awareness on my part is a sign of a truly entertaining romance story. Unfortunately, when Laurel confronts Jack, it is apparently too much for him to take in all at once – he had slept with Laurel, not Amaryllis; Laurel didn’t know her daughter was alive; Laurel had come to take his daughter away; Laurel’s physical attempts to escape had given him an erection etc. So, he takes control of the situation and locks her in the attic. For the rest of the novel. That sound you hear is my love train derailing. Oh, what could have been.
After Jack locks Laurel in the attic so that she can’t carry out on her promise to escape with Melody, nothing else changed in the story. The writing was still good, the characters were still well drawn…but Laurel was locked in an attic! By her Hero! In fact, we never see Laurel enjoying a life of freedom outside of the confines of the attic until the epilogue! This was too much for me. Faced with such a plot point, I became critical of everything else. The secondary characters I had previously been enjoying (by virtue of their very light presence in the novel, enough for me to know I am supposed to buy two earlier books but not so much that I learn the whole story and can forgo the purchases) turned annoying. They all of a sudden seemed to have more page time but no one was assiduous enough to realize that there was a lady locked in the attic! In addition, there was a very minor side-romance which had obviously had its origins in an earlier book. Because Jack had so very much to make up for (locked! In attic!), I really didn’t feel charitable enough to patiently read through another story when the main one was in such a hot mess.
Then to add insult to imprisonment, the ending came upon me so swiftly, I had to backtrack in my reading, thinking I’d missed something. Yes, locked away all cosily in the attic, Jack and Laurel had had chances to bond and Jack had already unburdened himself to her. But she was still at his mercy so I had been expecting sanity to re-emerge and for them to develop their relationship on even footing. That never came.
Despite all that I’ve just said, I still read Scoundrel In My Dreams without stopping, very much without a ‘reviewers’ hat on (which is again for me, a sign of an entertaining read) and in the round, it was enjoyable. I believe I was able to do this because Bradley inserts some plot points into the story to make Laurel’s imprisonment seem less like a prison. I fell for it for short spaces of time but there always came a scene where Jack had to lock the door and the patina of romance thinned a bit more each time. I cannot say I did not like this story, but I wish it had developed in a more palatable way. And despite the secondary characters getting the brunt of my annoyance, I will look for their stories and hope I enjoy them all the way through.