Joan Bennet is tired of being a wallflower. Thanks to some deliciously scandalous—and infamous—stories, she has a pretty good idea of what she’s missing as a spinster. Is even a short flirtation too much to ask for?
Tristan, Lord Burke, recognizes Joan at once for what she is: trouble. Not only is she his best friend’s sister, she always seems to catch him at a disadvantage. The only way he can win an argument is by kissing her senseless. He’d give anything to get her out of her unflattering gowns. But either one of those could cost him his bachelor status, which would be dreadful—wouldn’t it?
Oh, what a lovely book! There was no melodrama; there were no huge angst-fests, no mysteries to solve, no evil ex-lovers or relatives out to steal the heroine’s fortune; no big misunderstandings or unexpected pregnancies… this was a story about two people finding each other and falling in love, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
Tristan, Viscount Burke and Joan Bennet have been vaguely acquainted with each other since childhood. Tristan is a close friend of Joan’s brother, Douglas, and over the years the pair of them have got into scrapes, caused scandals and generally lived the dissolute lives of young, well-to-do gentlemen.
Tristan lost both his parents as a child and was reluctantly taken in by his aunt and uncle, neither of whom wanted anything to do with him. As a result, he tried to spend as little time at home as possible, inveigling invitations where he could to friends’ homes for school holidays. Having nobody to check him – and more importantly to love him – has meant that his behaviour in society has not always been everything it should be, although as he is young, titled, very handsome and very rich, he is welcome in all but the highest circles of tonnish society.
Joan is twenty-four and has spent most of her life trying to be a good daughter – which seems mostly to consist of doing what her mother wants. The problem is that Joan isn’t like her mother. She’s tall and statuesque, so the dresses, colours and hairstyles her mother favours make her look frumpish and unattractive, yet she continues to wear them because it makes her mother happy. Joan is clever and witty, but her height, figure and awful dresses mean that she is consigned to the ranks of the wallflowers at balls and other functions.
When Joan goes to visit her brother Douglas one morning with the intention of securing his agreement to attend a particular ball, she is surprised when his front door is opened by a shirtless and rather grumpy young man, which fazes Joan not one bit.
”I’m sorry,” she said, finding her tongue. “Have you taken up residence?”
“For two months,” he said. “Until my roof is repaired.”
“Ah,” she said. “How lovely that Douglas will have a companion in vice so conveniently to hand.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Vice? How interesting you would sieze on that so quickly.”
“It is the first thing that comes to mind when one considers my brother.” She looked him up and down. “And you, I imagine.”
“Good heavens,” he drawled. “It must have been the first thing to come to your mind, then, when I opened the door for you. Should I be flattered?”
The golden flecks in her eyes glinted. “Probably not,” she replied. “I imagine the two of you, thoroughly foxed, unable to walk, lying in your own filth as you sleep it off – no doubt snoring viciously and twitching every few moments.”
Each time Joan and Tristan meet, the sparks fly, and when Lady Bennet is taken ill and has to leave London, Douglas asks Tristan to keep an eye on Joan (whose aunt Evangeline has come to stay with her) and to make sure she doesn’t get bored – by which Douglas means taking her for a drive, dancing with her at a ball, that sort of thing. Well aware of his growing attraction to Joan, Tristan is little short of horrified at his friend’s request, but assents anyway, fully intending to keep his attentions to Joan to a minimum.
But he finds that to be impossible and spends much more time with her than he thinks is wise – taking her on a balloon ascension and dancing with her more times than is strictly proper, so that their names begin to be “linked”. Unfortunately, Lady Bennet is less than fond of Tristan, preferring to blame him for Douglas’ excesses rather than to see that her son doesn’t need any encouragement in that quarter – and when she returns to London, she is horrified to discover that Joan and Tristan are regarded as almost a couple by the society gossips.
What I liked best about the book is that while it’s an “ugly duckling” story, as Joan, with the help of her slightly scandalous aunt, finds her own style and learns to assert herself a little – it doesn’t take nicer dresses and better hairstyles for Tristan to notice her. He’s intrigued by her from the start, dubbing her “the fury” because of her sharp tongue and the way she stands up to him and answers him back; and it’s not long before he’s attracted as well as intrigued and infuriated by her, despite the bad dresses. He’s lusting after her before she makes the transformation into a swan, being appreciative of Joan’s intelligence and wit as well as her… more feminine attributes.
I also liked the fact that, when the inevitable happened and Joan and Tristan HAD to get married, Joan didn’t get missish and insist she wouldn’t marry him because she didn’t want to trap him into it – and in fact, Tristan was already making preparations to approach her father before word got about that he’d compromised her, because he wanted to marry her.
With Lady Bennet being so displeased at the way things have worked out, Tristan and Joan are allowed no time alone in the weeks before their wedding, and are thus unable to talk about their feelings for each other. Joan knows Tristan desires her, but feels he may be marrying her because he has no other option, which puts a damper on the whole thing for her.
What she doesn’t realise is that the uncertainty is mutual. Tristan has little or no experience with loving or being loved, but he’s man enough to own up to his feelings when Joan asks if he wants her for more than just sex. In fact, throughout the book, it’s made clear that he’s a man with a lot to offer – I loved his enthusiasm for his home and all the renovations he was having carried out; he went to a lot of trouble to arrange the balloon excursion for Joan because he knew her life had probably been rather staid and dull, and his teasing was always good-natured. He did something for Joan which nobody else had ever done – he made her feel beautiful, when for years she’d thought of herself as a dowd – and that’s one of the nicest thing any man can do for a woman, IMO.
This book was a treat from start to finish. Joan and Tristan were both truly warm and engaging characters, the dialogue was excellent and the sexual tension just sizzled whenever they were together on the page. . Love and Other Scandals is easily one of the best books I’ve read all year.
With thanks to Avon and Edelweiss for the review copy.