Never Marry a Viscount (Scandal at the House of Russell #3) by Anne Stuart

nevermarryviscount

Sophie Russell was once society’s darling. But after the disgrace and death of her father, she now finds all doors firmly shut to her—including those of her family home. To discover the secrets now hidden within its beloved walls, she’ll pose as a cook and spy on the estate’s new owner, a broodingly handsome viscount, who may have schemed against the Russells. Instead of dishing up the truth, the viscount tempts Sophie with delicacies of his own…

Viscount Griffiths suspects that there is more to his new cook than meets the eye—especially since it was a mistress he hired sight unseen, not a cook. With the hope that her passion in the kitchen will extend to his bedchamber, he humors the beautiful interloper. But when that passion burns to brightest love, revelations may shake both of their wary hearts…

The final sensuous book in the Scandal at the House of Russell trilogy will lay the truth bare.

Rating: B

This, the final book in Ms Stuart’s Scandal at the House of Russell trilogy, focuses on Sophie, the youngest of the three Russell sisters who were left destitute after the sudden and suspicious death of their father.

Determined to prove that he was innocent of embezzling all the funds from his successful shipping company, and to identify his killer, the eldest of the ladies, Bryony, came up with the plan of infiltrating the households of the three prime suspects: The Earl of Kilmartyn, Captain Thomas Morgan, and Viscount Alexander Griffiths, whose family estate, Renwick, had become home to the Russell family after Mr Russell won it in a card game from the previous viscount.

With Bryony now married to Kilmartyn (and out of the country) and Madeleine somewhere in Plymouth investigating Morgan, Sophie has had enough of waiting out her days in the company of their old nanny in a cottage on the edge of the massive Renwick estate. It reverted to the possession of the Griffiths family on her father’s death, and the new viscount has recently taken up residence there. From the rumours circulating to the effect that he killed his first wife a decade ago, and her own fondness for gothic novels, Sophie has taken to thinking of him as “The Dark Viscount”, believing him to be brooding, haunted and quite possibly completely bonkers. But once she sets eyes on him, Sophie has to admit that while he’s certainly darkly brooding, the likelihood of his being a raving maniac is slight. He’s far too self-possessed, not to mention far too stunningly gorgeous to have taken to re-animating corpses or locking up madwomen in the attics.

(Personally, I don’t see that being gorgeous precludes that sort of thing – but I digress.)

When an opportunity presents itself for Sophie to take a leaf out of Bryony’s book and infiltrate the house of “her” suspect – she takes it, turning up at Renwick’s kitchen door at a time of complete chaos due to the presence of visitors in the house and the sudden departure of the cook. Sophie lets the staff believe she’s the replacement – she might not have done a day’s work in her life, but one thing she does know how to do is cook, and she throws herself into the new role with gusto.

Having already spent a few weeks ogling the masculine loveliness that is Alexander Griffiths from afar, Sophie is disturbed to find that he’s even more beautiful close-to, and is further unsettled by the air of dangerous sensuality he exudes and the keen interest he immediately takes in her. He might have an unsavoury reputation, but he’s never been one for bedding the females in his employ. Sophie is even more puzzled when he questions her as to her suitability for the position of cook, and insists on making certain that she has been sent there by one Mrs. Lefton, whom Sophie assumes must be the name of someone from the employment agency used to search for a replacement.

But Alexander isn’t at all concerned with Sophie’s culinary abilities and the position he’s talking about isn’t one in his kitchen. Mrs. Lefton is in fact the name of the madam he asked to find him a mistress, and Sophie’s repeated confirmations that Mrs. Lefton sent her leads to a series of misunderstandings and double entendres worthy of a Carry on Film.

I never undertake something without throwing myself into it completely, and I promise you that you will have absolutely no complaints about my … my cooking.” She stammered over the words. So they were going to speak in code, were they?

“Oh, I expect you’re an excellent … ah … cook. Mrs. Lefton would never have sent me a candidate who was unqualified. But there seems to be a certain lack of enthusiasm for some of the duties the job entails.”

“Oh, no, my lord… You will find that your faith in Mrs. Lefton’s judgment is not misplaced,” she continued. “I will stop at nothing in my efforts to please you. I am very creative and I promise to astonish your senses with delights you haven’t even dreamed of.”

Alexander obviously doesn’t realise she’s talking about her vol-au-vents!

The heat of the attraction between these two characters is intense, even when they’re at cross-purposes. Sophie is wary of her Dark Viscount, but completely unable to resist the strong pull she feels towards him; and Alexander, world-weary and still reeling from the impact of the death of his younger half-brother, finds himself quickly in the grips of a lust-crazed obsession for his new “cook”.

He’s not a particularly appealing character to start with; – sarcastic and domineering and when it comes to Sophie, concerned only with slaking his own powerful physical desires. But even when he’s being arrogant and obnoxious, he’s sexy as sin and when push comes to shove, and it’s time for him to polish up his rusty armour and get out the white charger, he doesn’t make a bad job of it.

I’m a fan of Ms Stuart’s, and while it pains me to say that this series has perhaps not been her best work, I did enjoy this book a lot more than the previous one (Never Trust a Pirate). This is mainly due to the strong chemistry between the central couple and because, in spite of his initial unpleasantness, Alexander still managed to charm my socks off. He isn’t as dark as some of Ms Stuart’s gamma heroes and has good reason for his cynicism, yet his arrogance and ruthlessness are eventually balanced by an innate sense of honour he can’t ignore, no matter how much he might want to think he’s not that sort of man.

Sophie is the youngest and most indulged of the three sisters, but she’s got a backbone of steel, and the determination to go with it. She’s well aware of her own attractiveness and knows its effect on men, but is level-headed enough to know that she can’t take credit for her looks and clever enough to know how to put them to good use. The cat-and-mouse game towards seduction is well-crafted, and the double-entendres come (see what I did there?) thick and fast (and there?), but fortunately the misunderstandings behind it all aren’t allowed to drag on for too long.

Being the last book in the series, Never Marry a Viscount brings back Sophie’s sisters and their respective spouses and neatly ties up the mystery surrounding Mr Russell’s death. The characterisations of Alexander’s step-mother and half-brother smacked somewhat of cartoon villainy. Sophie’s actions in the later stages of the plot don’t make much sense, and while the attraction between her and Alexander is undeniable, I wasn’t totally convinced that either of them had actually fallen in love. That said though, by the end of the story, it was clear they were well on their way to it.

Never Marry a Viscount is entertaining and stylishly written with a pervading sensuality to it that drew me in completely. Despite the issues I’ve mentioned and a couple of other, more minor inconsistencies, I enjoyed it; daft denouement, camp villains, and all!

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