The Scandal and Carter O'Neill
I’ve often thought that it’s harder to write a short book than a long one. Condensing all the emotion and action into a shorter format – without short-changing readers – is no mean feat. When I saw that this book involved a pregnant woman who dates a man running for political office, I doubted that it could work. But you know what? It does.
Carter O’Neill has worked hard to overcome the reputation of his infamous relatives, whose deeds run the gamut from petty crime to grand larceny. Carter is deputy mayor of Baton Rouge, and he has his eye on the mayor’s office. The current administration is honest and well-meaning, but struggles with the very bad reputation of the previous mayor. When Carter attends a meeting about a community center remodel, matters quickly get out of hand – particularly when the noticeably pregnant Zoe Madison stands up and asks, “Where have you been for the last five months?”
Zoe has in fact never met Carter before, but was paid by his mother to stand up and ask the question. She feels bad about it afterwards, but since she has no health insurance, an easy thousand dollars is pretty enticing. In the ensuing firestorm, the local paper dubs Carter “Deadbeat Deputy”. Since Zoe regrets her actions, she agrees to date Carter – or pretend to date him – until the media storm subsides.
There is more to the story, of course. The O’Neill family was involved in a jewel heist, and there are people who’d love to know where the jewels are. Carter lied in the past – in court – in order to protect his mother and his younger siblings. His relationship with them is complicated, and he’s not used to doing what he really wants to do, because he’s so focused on shielding his siblings from their selfish mother. But then he finds there is something he does want: Zoe.
Zoe is a dance teacher who used to dance professionally, and dreams of running her own dance studio. The baby’s father – and Zoe’s reasons for getting pregnant – aren’t revealed until the end of the book. I found myself turning pages pretty quickly, just so I’d figure out what was going on with that. Unlike Carter, Zoe has often let her emotions lead her. But she too has a problematic mother who might get in the way of her happiness. Can this unlikely relationship get off the ground?
I was very skeptical of this premise, which looked initially like it came straight from Trite Series Romance 101. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself buying into the whole scenario. It helped that Zoe was instantly sorry for her publicity stunt. But what helped even more was that both characters had depth to them. Their backstories are interesting, and they seemed to be a good fit for each other. Their complicated family backgrounds hit just the right note, explaining a lot about who they were without overwhelming the story or the romance.
I also really enjoyed the political aspects of the plot, and felt that the action unfolded in a realistic manner. If you are wondering whether Carter faces consequences for what he did in the past, the answer is yes.
I haven’t read the other books in the series (though I’d like to), but I didn’t find that this held me back from enjoying this one. I may not have gotten every nuance of the whole jewel heist deal, but there is enough information to give the reader a general idea of what went on – and just enough information to make you want to hunt down the other books.
If you haven’t read O’Keefe’s books before, this series is a great place to start. When she’s on her game, she can really craft a well-balanced story in a short space. That’s what she’s done with The Scandal and Carter O’Neill.