The Spinster's Guide to Scandalous Behavior
This second book in Jennifer McQuiston’s Seduction Diaries series re-acquaints readers with Lucy Westmore, the free-spirited, rather hoydenish younger sister of the heroine of the previous book. The Spinster’s Guide to Scandalous Behavior is a deftly written story that packs quite the emotional punch and boasts plenty of humour and sexual tension between the leads. But Lucy is one of those heroines who insists on being contrary for the sake of it, and whose stubbornness and impetuosity often lead her into difficult and potentially dangerous situations for no other reason than that she won’t be told what to do by a man – which puts her into the TSTL bracket more often than I would have liked.
Lucy is now twenty-one, and not at all relishing the prospect of making her début and having a season, no matter that her mother’s dearest wish is for her to find a husband and settle down. But Lucy doesn’t want to marry, knowing full-well that as a wife, she will in effect be her husband’s property and will have no freedom or independence. When she receives a package containing her recently deceased Aunt Edith’s diaries together with a letter informing her that she has been left a cottage in Lizard Bay, Cornwall in the old lady’s will, Lucy sees it as a sign. She doesn’t remember much about her rather eccentric aunt, but she knows that she trod her own path, choosing not to marry and to live an independent life, exactly as Lucy wants to do. Naturally, she is furious when she discovers that her father has arranged to sell Heathmore Cottage without her knowledge and without her having even seen it – and is even more determined to make her way to Cornwall to see the place and perhaps even take up residence.
The cottage’s would-be purchaser is Thomas, Marquess of Branston, a young man who retreated to rural Cornwall following his sister’s funeral some three years earlier. Having lost both parents and come into his marquessate at the age of eleven, Thomas was a studious young man, but after he left university, he fell in with the wrong crowd and spent most of his time thereafter in the bottom of a bottle. When his sister turned up on his doorstep pregnant, Thomas was too drunk to do anything to help her and then went into a further downward spiral upon the realisation that he had failed her. After the funeral, he fled London and the horrendous resultant scandal and ended up in Lizard Bay, where he encountered the redoubtable Miss E – Lucy’s aunt – who bullied him into the sobriety he has maintained for the past three years.
When Lucy, furious at her father’s presumption in attempting to sell her inheritance, dashes off an uncompromising letter to Thomas, he immediately travels to London – a place he has avoided like the plague for three years – to see if he can charm her into selling to him after all, but Lucy is adamant. She wants to travel to Cornwall to see the cottage for herself before she makes a decision, and even though Thomas offers her far more than the place is worth, she sticks to her guns and refuses him once more, suspicious as to why he is so desperate to buy a place that her father has told her is rat-infested, falling down and situated in the middle of nowhere.
I enjoyed the flirtatiously antagonistic relationship that springs up between Thomas and Lucy, although I did get a bit impatient with Lucy’s persistence in believing the worst of him. That said, their romance develops at a good pace so there’s a sense of their getting to know each other even as they are grappling with the strength of their unexpected mutual attraction. Lucy never expected to feel desire for a man or to have such feelings reciprocated; and the moment when she admits to herself that her determination to remain a spinster has more to do with her fears that she is undesirable than it does with a true inclination to remain single is a poignant one. This also marks the beginning of a new maturity for Lucy, as she begins to understand herself better and to see that so many of her decisions had been prompted by a need to feel important rather than genuine altruism.
Thomas is a lovely hero – kind, funny, understanding and genuinely caring, he grew to admire and respect Lucy’s aunt, and sees much of Miss E in her niece; but he is clear-sighted enough to recognise that perhaps the lady’s life wasn’t quite as full and happy as Lucy seems to believe. The inclusion of various passages from Miss E’s diary is an effective device used to draw parallels between her mindset and Lucy’s. Ms McQuiston does a very good job here of getting the reader to read between the lines as to the truth of Edith Westmore’s self-imposed exile, gradually revealing to Lucy that what her aunt is really trying to tell her is that a life well-loved is a life well-lived.. I did wish that Lucy had arrived at that realisation sooner, however, as her stubborn belief that Miss E would have wanted her to follow in her footsteps and make her life alone makes her seem hopelessly naïve at times and is part of the reason she is not always easy to like.
It’s a refreshing change to read a romance set away from the hustle and bustle of London, and I really appreciated the way in which the community of Lizard Bay is integrated into Thomas and Lucy’s story. One of the things Ms McQuiston has done in all the books of hers I’ve read is to give her heroes an unusual profession (for a romantic hero, that is), and she continues that here by making Thomas a botanist and, in modern parlance, an environmentalist.
I had a few other minor issues with the story, such as the fact that some of the flirtatious banter between Lucy and Thomas is perhaps a little TOO shocking, even for a scandalous spinster! But in spite of that, and even with my reservations about the heroine, The Spinster’s Guide to Scandalous Behavior is still a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable read.