To Sin With a Scoundrel
For awhile there, I thought To Sin With a Scoundrel was going to be a good one. It features a scientist heroine, a rakish hero, and an evil family lurking in the wings with nasty deeds on their minds. A scenario like this needs to be:
A: Handled with subtlety and a dash of humor.
B: Full throttle over the top shrieking melodrama!
Instead, Cara Elliott treads the middle ground which results in a bland and episodic book.
Ciara, Lady Sheffield is a quiet, retiring widow who is well known in London scientific circles as a scholar. However, among the ton she is The Wicked Widow and a staple of the scandal sheets. Lord Sheffield died quite suddenly and, although it was evident to the coroner that it was the six bottles of brandy he had polished off that did him in, his family do their best to keep the scandal alive by not so subtly hinting that Ciara is a poisoner. Ciara has kept a low profile, but the attacks have become almost more than she can stand, especially since they hurt her son, Peregrine. Her good friends, a group of scholarly women, tell her she needs another husband – but Ciara’s marriage was a horrid experience and she doesn’t want to get involved with anyone right now.
Lucas, Lord Hadley is another staple of the scandal sheets which are all filled with stories about Mad Bad Had-ley. His latest scandal was being caught in flagrante with a woman in a fountain playing Leda and the Swan. Not a bit ashamed, he revels in his notoriety. Lucas cultivates his reputation of having a care for no one, and the only warm feelings he has are for his uncle Sir Henry Phelps who was his guardian. Sir Henry is a scholar who always looked on Lucas with love and acceptance no matter how wild he ran. Recently, Sir Henry has come into possession of a manuscript which may be the work of Hippocrates. He needs it translated and wants Ciara to do it, so he asks Lucas to go to London and ask for her help. (Sir Henry is crippled and in poor health).
When Ciara and Lucas meet, it doesn’t go well at first, but she finally agrees to translate the manuscript. In return, Lucas offers his protection and they plan on posing as an engaged couple. Ciara’s friends have persuaded her that she has to go out in Society, and being seen with a well-behaved Lord Hadley will curb the gossip for both of them till the next big scandal comes along to distract the ton. As soon as they are distracted, Ciara plans to quietly cry off her engagement and she and Lucas will part.
Lucas and Ciara’s subterfuge turns out to be good for both of them. The haute monde decide she is no black widow and he has turned into a perfectly proper gentleman and they are accepted in Society. However, Sheffield’s sister Lady Battersham is determined that the title will go to her wastrel son Arthur and she doesn’t want anything to stand in her way.
I enjoyed the introduction of the characters in To Sin With a Scoundrel. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for scientist heroines, and Ciara is the real deal. She is no dilettante and though constrained by being a woman, she has quietly earned respect for her research. Lucas is no fake rake. He’s a cad, a promiscuous no-good, and only his love for his uncle shows him in a good light. It was inevitable that these two should clash and they do. Lucas begins by making lewd double entendres toward Ciara that discomfit her. Frankly, I would have slapped him in the face and shown him the door, but she is intrigued by the manuscript Lucas brings her, even though she doesn’t care for him at all.
At this point, the book begins to bog down. Lucas and Ciara go out in public and the same thing happens over and over. They dance, he whispers rude nothings in her ear, she blushes, Society thinks they are a wonderful couple. Then Lucas leaves to ponder why he is having tender feelings for a bluestocking and she ponders why she is falling for a rake. I never felt a sense of connection between the characters at all. Actually, the best depicted relationship in the book was the one between Lucas and Ciara’s son, Peregrine.
Perry’s father either ignored or belittled him, and he blossoms under Lucas’s attention. Lucas teaches him the fine points of cricket, buys him a pony, and treats him like a son. The lonely boy bonds with Lucas and they become the best of friends. I could see why Lucas and Perry liked each other – I couldn’t see why Lucas and Ciara loved each other and that was the biggest fault in the story.
This book sets up the next in the series (Ciara and her friends belong to a group called The Circle of Scientific Sybils aka The Circle of Sin). It will feature Alessandra della Giamatti, a scientist and the rakish Lord James Pierson. The title is To Surrender to a Rogue. Despite my problems with this book, I will read it – I do have a fondness for these types of characters.