The Chaperon's Seduction
This is the first book in a quartet of books about The Scandalous Arrandales, a family whose name has become a byword for dissipation, profligacy and excess throughout society. It’s basically a rake-meets-prim-guardian story, but it’s a very good one – well-written and strongly characterised with a central romance that develops at a credible pace. The hero of The Chaperon’s Seduction is Richard Arrandale, a young man who has forged himself a reputation as a rake of the first order. His older brother, Wolfgang, fled England a decade ago accused of the murder of his wife, and their father never cared very much for either of them, intent on pursing his own dissipated existence, and leaving them to more or less bring themselves up.
Richard was a mischievous, adventurous seventeen year-old when his brother decamped, although his father believed him to be just as dissolute as the rest of the Arrandales. Bereft after the disappearance of the older brother he’d looked up to, and angry at his father for his poor opinion of him, Richard felt he might as well live up to his family’s reputation, got himself sent down from Oxford and then embarked upon a spectacular round of debauchery in London. A decade later, his reputation as a gambler and womaniser is practically unparalleled, but what few realise is that ever since his brother’s departure, Richard has been maintaining Wolf’s property at his own expense, supplementing the small income derived from his own modest estate by gambling for high stakes.
Richard is staying in Bath with his great aunt (of whom he is very fond), and is spending an evening at one of his favourite gambling hells when he hears of the imminent arrival of a new, young heiress. The news spreads like wildfire, and even though he finds it rather distasteful, Richard is persuaded to join in with a wager; whoever seduces her first will win ten thousand pounds. His thousand-pound stake is not something he can easily afford, but even more, Richard can’t afford to turn his nose up at the prospect of the prize money. And while he knows he’s no model of propriety, he’s aware that some of the men involved would treat a young woman less than kindly, so he determines to pursue the heiress while also protecting her from the attentions of the less decent types among the group.
Miss Ellen Tatham is seventeen and has come to Bath to dip her toes into the social whirl of Bath before making her London début. She is going to stay with her widowed stepmother, Lady Phyllida, who is only seven years her senior, having married Ellen’s father when she herself was just seventeen. Ellen and Phyllida are more like sisters than mother and daughter, and even though Phyllida is well aware that she will have her work cut out for her as Ellen’s chaperon, she is determined to keep the girl safe from the fortune hunters and reprobates who will shortly gather round her.
Visiting the Pump Room on the morning after Ellen’s arrival, Phyllida is surprised to see the notorious rake, Richard Allendale escorting his great aunt Sophia, Lady Hune. Phyllida is immediately on the alert, knowing the danger posed to Ellen by a man of Richard’s reputation. At Ellen’s age, Phyllida was almost cripplingly shy and can still recall her one dance at Almack’s with the handsome and charming Richard Allendale, to whom she is dismayed to discover she is still deeply attracted. In spite of the fact that he is never overt in his attentions towards Ellen, Phyllida continues to be suspicious of Richard’s intentions, and sticks firmly to Ellen’s side on the various excursions and events that are organised among their small circle of friends. To her increasing surprise – and Richard’s – he is at Phyllida’s side far more often than he is at Ellen’s; and before long he has to admit to himself that it’s not the heiress who interests him. Their romance moves slowly at first, both of them circling like fencers assessing their opponent’s technique until their mutual attraction becomes impossible to resist, and it’s very well done.
In spite of its predictable storyline, I enjoyed the book very much. Ms Mallory has taken a well-used trope and given it a bit of a makeover, shaking up some of the elements so often found in historical romances. I particularly enjoyed her characterisation of Ellen, who is no green miss still wet behind the ears. She is not a typical curl-tossing, foot-stamping débutante who does stupid things simply to be contrary and flout authority, but instead has her head very firmly screwed on the right way, and is quite worldly wise without being “fast”. I enjoyed watching her navigate her way through the sea of potential suitors, keeping them all at arm’s length while being perfectly friendly. I was also pleased with the author’s decision to make Phyllida’s marriage to her much older husband a happy one, even though it was a marriage of convenience. The relationship was obviously an affectionate one, and in it, Phyllida was able to shed her shyness, gain confidence and blossom into a poised and attractive woman.
Richard is a delicious hero; handsome, charming and witty as befits such a renowned ladies’ man, but in possession of a streak of goodness and honour a mile wide. As the story progresses and we – and Phyllida – learn more about him it becomes apparent that he is not at all as black as he has been painted. He’s a decent man whose sense of self-worth was all but destroyed by his uncaring father and who is rather tired of the lifestyle he has espoused for the past decade. The relationship between him and his aunt, who is the one person in his entire family who has ever believed in him, is beautifully written, and the affection lying between the pair is palpable.
The Chaperon’s Seduction is a quick but entertaining and emotionally satisfying read. I’m definitely going to be looking out for future titles in the series.