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On the night of the Parkhurst ball, someone had a scandalous tryst in the library. Was it Lord Canby, with the maid, on the divan? Or Miss Fairchild, with a rake, against the wall? Perhaps the butler did it.
All Charlotte Highwood knows is this: it wasn’t her. But rumors to the contrary are buzzing. Unless she can discover the lovers’ true identity, she’ll be forced to marry Piers Brandon, Lord Granville—the coldest, most arrogantly handsome gentleman she’s ever had the misfortune to embrace. When it comes to emotion, the man hasn’t got a clue.
But as they set about finding the mystery lovers, Piers reveals a few secrets of his own. The oh-so-proper marquess can pick locks, land punches, tease with sly wit . . . and melt a woman’s knees with a single kiss. The only thing he guards more fiercely than Charlotte’s safety is the truth about his dark past.
Their passion is intense. The danger is real. Soon Charlotte’s feeling torn. Will she risk all to prove her innocence? Or surrender it to a man who’s sworn to never love?
Reading Tessa Dare’s Do You Want to Start a Scandal reminded me that as much as I love to have my angst level cranked up to heart-wrenching heights, I love a good laugh too. And boy did I laugh. I think I laughed pretty solidly through the first 5% of this book.
You know how sometimes heroines who are meant to amuse come across as silly? I’ve read books like that. This is not that book and Charlotte Highwood is not that heroine. She’s truly adorable. Witty, outspoken, exuberant and prone to the occasional gaffe, Charlotte is fantastic and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with her. And Ms. Dare introduces her to readers in one of the most memorable, laugh-out-loud opening scenes I can remember.
Charlotte’s mother is shamelessly trying to hook a good match for her last unmarried daughter and she has her sight set on Piers Brandon, the Marquess of Granville. They’re all houseguests of Sir and Mrs. Parkhurst for a fortnight (Charlotte is best friends with the youngest daughter Delia). Charlotte decides the easiest way to avoid her mother’s machinations is to warn the marquess. She does so by following him and confronting him in the library. Yes, she’s there to save him. She then goes on to explain, in only the way she can, why a match between would be absurd. Playing the devil’s advocate, he argues that she would be getting much in return.
“I’m a marquess. I have five houses.”
“But you know what I mean,” she said. “It would be a disaster, through and through.”
“An existence marked by tedium and punctuated by misery.”
“We’d forced to base our entire relationship on sexual congress.”“Er…what?”
Piers is wonderful. I loved him. Loved his aloofness and his arid dry sense of humor. Loved that his sense of honor compels him into offering for Charlotte’s hand when they’re erroneously thought to have been the ones tupping in the library. Charlotte, however, is determined that neither of them will be trapped into a forced marriage. She wants to marry only for love, and she doesn’t particularly like the marquess to boot. That of course changes as they become better acquainted. But that doesn’t stop her from attempting to discover the lovers who did in fact have a sexual tryst in the library. What she does discover is that Piers is a man with secrets. Lots of secrets. And he’s not the reserved and strait-laced marquess that he appears. He certainly doesn’t kiss like one…
As the marriage noose closes around Charlotte’s slender neck and with time running out, there’s a particularly amusing scene in which her mother decides that her daughter, at the age of twenty, needs to be told about the birds and the bees.
“You see, a man’s…ahem…is shaped differently from a woman’s…” Mama fluttered her hand. “…whatsit. And in the marital bed, he will wish to place his…” More hand fluttering. “…inside yours.”“His ahem goes in my whatsit.”
It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed this much—particularly when reading a historical. And not only did I laugh, I had to keep a fan on hand because Ms. Dare knows how to write a love scene. Boy does she. She gives you everything: hot, steamy lovemaking, passion and emotion. But what carries the day is the sheer sensuality of the scenes. In recent years, I’ve found myself skimming love scenes way too often. Not here. Not with this book. Nope, I read every word—fan afluttering.
“What’s your plan, Agent Brandon?” she whispered. “Do you mean to kiss me so long and so hard that I’ll forget your identity?”
“No.” His hand slid to the back of her head, tangling in her hair—so tightly she gasped. “I mean to kiss you so long and so hard that you’ll forget yours.”
That is nothing short of sexy. Forget Charlotte, I melted when I read it.
The story contains some surprising twists and turns and readers get to catch up with Charlotte’s older sisters Minerva and Diana, heroines from A Week to Be Wicked and Beauty and the Blacksmith, and their husbands.
There’s much to love about this book, but what I loved the most was Pier’s unwavering and dogged pursuit of Charlotte—although it comes without the promise of love. She’s not the heroine falling all over herself to get him to the altar despite her meager circumstances and her mother’s oftentimes embarrassing machinations. He—the marquess with five houses—is the one who has to do the convincing. And in an era of matchmaking mamas and a London Season created with the express purpose of young ladies securing their futures by landing a husband, it was nice to read about a hero doing the trapping and chasing.