Scandal in the Night by Elizabeth Essex

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The Spy Who Loved Her

Assuming a false identity as a prim and proper governess, the bold and beautiful Cat Rowan thinks she has finally escaped the wild misadventures of her past—and the wickedly handsome spy who seduced her in India. Imagine her surprise when her employer introduces his brother: the very same cad who destroyed her heart!

The One Who Got Away

The Honorable Thomas Jellicoe cannot believe his eyes when he sees his beloved Cat — the Scottish beauty who nearly jeopardized his mission in India. Disguised as a horse trader from the bazaars of the Punjab, the British spy risked his life for one night of passion in her arms. But here and now—breaking all rules of decorum—one heated kiss ignites a flurry of gunfire. For their enemies have followed them home. And love is the greatest danger of all…

Rating: A-

This is the first book by Elizabeth Essex I’ve read, and on the strength of it, will certainly be searching out more of her work. Scandal in the Night is part of a series, but works incredibly well as a standalone; and in it, Ms Essex has combined a sweeping and poignant romance with a thriller and peppered it with lots of interesting historical detail and – in the parts set in India – evocative descriptions of local colour and customs.

The opening chapter sees the Honourable Thomas Jellicoe, third son of the Earl of Sanderson, returning to England after a fifteen year absence. As a younger man, he was sent to India to work for the East India Company and was quickly identified as having the special talents needed to gather intelligence; so for the majority of his time there, he worked as a spy. As he says later in the book, to be most effective, a good spy should not attract attention and be able to hide in plain sight, which is exactly what Thomas does. He creates a new identity – that of successful horse breeder and trader Tanvir Singh, and immerses himself completely in his adopted customs and lifestyle.

His true identity is known to only two or three people, and for over a decade, Thomas performs his roles extremely successfully and is content. But that contentment is suddenly shattered when he sees a young, pale-skinned, red-haired woman in the Rani Bazzar one morning, and is instantly smitten. But it’s more than physical attraction. Knowing the woman must be British, Thomas finds himself thinking about home and family for the first time in a dozen years, and finds for the first time a feeling of being “apart”, the weight of his double life suddenly making its presence felt in a way it never has before. And he discovers, deep down, a feeling that perhaps the time is coming when he will want to leave India and return to England.

The young woman is Catriona Rowan, niece to the new resident commissioner of Saharanpur, Lord Summers, and governess to his young children. Thomas is enchanted by her striking looks and her delight in her surroundings and her curiosity, and is further delighted when he discovers the steely backbone that lurks beneath her outer softness. His mistake is in being so infatuated that he doesn’t pause to wonder how and why she acquired it.

When Thomas arrives, unannounced, at his brother’s estate, ready to be welcomed back into the bosom of his family, he is absolutely stunned to discover that the woman he has been searching for for the past two years has been employed as governess to his brother’s children. Catriona – now calling herself Anne Cates – is there, right in front of him, as completely dumbfounded to see Thomas as he is to see her. She had known him only as Tanvir Singh and, we later learn, thought he had abandoned her in India. Their reunion is anything but tender, and after a brief and very strained exchange under the curious eyes of Thomas’ brother and sister-in-law, Catriona runs, knowing it will not be long before her employers discover the truth: She is wanted for murder.

But as she runs, shots are fired, upping the stakes considerably and re-inforcing Catriona’s decision to leave. If, as Thomas suspects, the bullets were meant for her, then she cannot afford to stay and put at risk the lives of Thomas’ family.

This part of the story is thus about finding the would-be murderer and thwarting them. Events unfold over a mere day and a half, with the bulk of the book being taken up with Thomas and Cat’s remembrances of their time in India and how they fell in love. I like the use of flashback as a literary device, and it is handled very well here. The interludes are well placed and I never felt as though the flow of the story was interrupted.

In India, Thomas and Cat are inexorably drawn towards each other – Thomas knowing all the while that he is risking exposure because of course, a Sikh horse-trader could have nothing to do with a British memsahib. But her pull is so strong that even a seasoned spy like Thomas can’t stop himself from showing her more attention than he should, even as he tries to disguise his interest in her. I really enjoyed the way their romance was developed. It was clear from the outset that there was much more to it than physical attraction or insta-lust, and that here were two lonely people who were somehow two halves of the same whole. Thomas’ false identity prevents him from wooing Cat as he would were he “himself”, and Ms Essex has skilfully written a slow-burning and tender courtship with an underlying intensity which stems from Tanvir/Thomas’ very proper behaviour towards her. The author’s use of formal language is both appropriate and rather beautiful; Thomas’ disguise as Tanvir gives her the opportunity to embellish his speech in a way that feels simultaneously formal yet very sensuous.

Thomas is a man who knows what he wants, which is one of the things that I loved about him. He falls hard for Cat and doesn’t try to fight it, even though he knows that the only way to be with her is to turn his life upside down and leave India. Unlike many heroes in historical romance, Thomas isn’t a commitment-phobe, and he’s ready to make such a huge change and settle down, which adds greatly to his overall appeal.

Cat is a woman surrounded by secrets. Even at the age of twenty (when Thomas meets her for the first time) she is carrying a burden of guilt which led her to flee her homeland under a cloud and her return to England seems to have taken place under similar conditions. The British community in Saharanpur believes her to be responsible for a fire at the Summers’ residence which killed her aunt and uncle on the night before she left, and she knows that whoever is out to kill her is seeking to secure her silence about what really happened there.

The way the story plays out is well planned and very well executed. The two protagonists are strongly characterised – Thomas especially – and I particularly liked the way Ms Essex commented upon the political situation of the time, and the corrupt nature of the power enjoyed by the East India Company and its employees. Her depiction of the ex-patriot community as a bunch of discontented backstabbers felt completely right as the matrons disdained Catriona’s desire to soak up as much as she could of the local culture.

I found Scandal in the Night to be a very entertaining and well-written novel . I loved the setting and was impressed by the attention given by the author to the historical and political detail. The romance was tender and heartfelt and the thriller element worked well. I will admit that I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the dénouement, but by that point, I was so caught up in the story and with rooting for Cat and Thomas to finally get their HEA, that I was happy to watch things play out and turned the final page with that feeling of satisfaction that comes with reaching the end of a thoroughly enjoyable book.

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