Lady Armstrong’s Scandalous Awakening (Revelations of the Carstairs Sisters #2) by Marguerite Kaye

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Hers was a body of marble…

Until he brought it to life

Since her tyrannical late husband ruined her reputation, Lady Mercy Armstrong has been longing to reinvent herself. The perfect opportunity presents itself when rebellious self-made man Jack Dalmuir presents a daring proposition—a fake dalliance that will change society’s view of her! Only her cavorting with the handsome Scotsman ignites a passion that could change their lives for ever…

Rating: B

For this second book in her Victorian Era Revelations of the Carstairs Sisters series, Marguerite Kaye returns briefly to her Armstrong family, albeit a generation on, and shows the apple didn’t fall far from the tree in the person of the deceased but obnoxious-from-beyond-the-grave Lord Harry Armstrong.  Lady Armstrong’s Scandalous Awakening opens on the day of the reading of the late Lord Armstrong’s will at which his two brothers (twins) and his wife, Mercy (née Carstairs), are to be present.  It’s very clear that the Armstrongs’ seventeen year marriage was anything but happy, and that the deceased was cold, domineering and unkind, traits that became more pronounced as the years went by and Mercy failed give him the all-important son and heir. (Because of course it was her fault.)

Not content with being a domestic tyrant in life, however, Lord Armstrong has one last dig at his wife in the most appalling way, attaching a codicil to his will and insisting it be read aloud.  In it, he accuses her of having an “obstinate and determined failure to provide [him] with an heir” and denounces her as “a disgrace to the gentle sex… and not fit to be a wife.  Lady Mercy Armstrong is frigid.  Engage with her at your peril.”  Mercy knows very well that the new Lord Armstrong and his brother will waste no time in making sure their late brother’s words are reported in the press and about society, whose members will no doubt relish the opportunity to gossip and gloat to their heart’s content.

One year later, and Mercy is finally out of morning for the husband who oppressed and belittled her.  She’s spent the last year living quietly in the country with her brother Clement, a scholar, but has decided it’s time to get on with her life.  She’s realised the one of the reasons for her late husband’s spitefulness was because he wanted to make sure she spent the rest of her life alone as a form of revenge – but she’s determined to make the most of her new-found freedom and independence and most of all, have some fun.

A chance meeting with Jack Dalmuir, a successful Glaswegian engineer, seems as though it will offer Mercy just the opportunity she wants.  On the very day her morning ends, Mercy finds herself – somewhat tipsily and very uncharacteristically – sharing some of the details of her life and her husband’s cruelty, finding in Mr. Dalmuir a concerned and sympathetic listener who encourages her in her desire to make a fresh start.

“Enjoy yourself, kick over the traces a bit.  Do some of the things that you’ve always wanted to.”

More than that, he offers to help if he can, proposing to serve as her escort should she need one, and the pair make arrangements to meet again when they are both in London.

Marguerite Kaye is one of the few writers of historical romance around who regularly writes stories featuring non-titled heroes, instead opting to write about military men or men of business and enterprise, of which Jack Dalmuir is one.  He’s a self-made man who runs his own engineering firm, and he and Mercy meet when Jack is travelling to London in order to oversee the installation of the steam engines built by his company into two new water pumping stations.  He’s attractive, intelligent and has a clear life plan mapped out; he’s dedicated to his business and intends to remain so for some years yet before turning his attention to taking a wife – a strong, practical woman from a similar background to his own – and perhaps starting a family.

Jack and Mercy are both single and neither is in the least interested in marriage, so there can be no harm in their going on outings and spending time together.  They enjoy each other’s company and for Mercy, being with a man who does not seek to judge or oppress her is a revelation.  Yet there’s an undeniable attraction between them that’s impossible to deny, and as their association continues, both realise that they’re getting in deeper than they had ever intended.

As is always the case with a Marguerite Kaye book, her meticulous historical research shows itself in the way she so skilfully weaves interesting background detail throughout her stories. Here, we’re treated to descriptions of the London docks, a visit to a Holborn pie stall and to the Scottish countryside around Glasgow, and to discussion of how Jack’s innovations will help to transform lives.  The romance is beautifully written and the chemistry between Jack and Mercy is terrific, the focus firmly on their growing feelings for each other at the same time as Mercy, with Jack’s unwavering support and encouragement,  is growing into the confident, strong woman she was always meant to be.

I’m going to put this next part under a spoiler tag, as it’s a subject that’s come up around here a few times and something readers may appreciate knowing about in advance.

In the last part of the book, Mercy, who has believed herself barren, discovers she’s pregnant.  It’s not a plot device I particularly like and I confess that when I realised this was the direction the book was taking, my heart sank.  BUT.  Consider sticking with it, because Ms. Kaye actually makes it work better than most.  She makes it clear just how ignorant Mercy was and how she’d been more or less browbeaten into believing her childlessness couldn’t possibly be her husband’s fault.  She doesn’t use the pregnancy as a convenient way to provide the book’s HEA, instead showing the protagonists working through their issues about marriage.  Mercy’s determination never to marry again is well cemented into the story and completely understandable, and the way she’s torn between wanting to preserve her independence and do the best for her child is well articulated.  She could leave town and have her baby somewhere nobody knows her, but she’s fully cognisant of the stigma that would be borne by her child should its illegitimacy be discovered, and also of how unfair it would be to Jack to deprive him of the opportunity to be part of his son or daughter’s life.  There’s also never any question of Mercy not telling Jack she’s pregnant; there are frayed tempers and a few harsh words between them at one point, but otherwise, they talk and act like the adults they are to work things out – and in doing so, to realise how much they really mean to each other.

I had a few niggles with the story, mostly relating to the way Mercy so easily talks to a perfect stranger about her marriage, but overall,  Lady Armstrong’s Scandalous Awakening is an intelligently written, emotionally satisfying and sensual romance featuring two engaging protagonists who, while from opposite ends of the social spectrum, are perfect for one another.  I enjoyed it, and am happy to recommend it to anyone looking to read a well-researched historical romance that feels properly grounded in the period in which it is set.

Her Heart for a Compass by Sarah Ferguson with Marguerite Kaye

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London 1865

In an attempt to rebel against a society where women are expected to conform, free-spirited Lady Margaret Montagu Scott flees her confines and an arranged marriage. But Lady Margaret’s parents, the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, as close friends with Queen Victoria, must face the public scrutiny of their daughter’s impulsive nature, and Margaret is banished from polite society.

Finding strength amongst equally free-spirited companions, including Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Louise, Margaret resolves to follow her heart. On a journey of self-discovery that will take her to Ireland, America, and then back to Britain, Lady Margaret must follow her heart and search for her place, and her own identity, in a changing society.

Rating: B

Her Heart for a Compass is the first (adult) novel by Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, and in it, she and her co-writer, historical romance author Marguerite Kaye, explore the life of one of the Duchess’ ancestors, Lady Margaret Montagu Scott, a young woman who defied the strict conventions of Victorian England to live life under her own terms.

I reviewed this one with Evelyn North, one of my fellow reviewers at AAR.

You can read our review at All About Romance.

A Forbidden Liaison with Miss Grant by Marguerite Kaye

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An unexpected encounter…

Will change everything!

Self-made gentleman and widower Grayson Maddox has devoted himself to his children and business, leaving no time for pleasure. Until he has an impulsive, thrillingly sensual encounter with lady’s companion, Miss Constance Grant! Their passion gives Grayson hope of a happiness he never thought he’d feel again. But there’s still much in both their pasts to confront before they can turn their forbidden liaison into a new beginning…

Rating: B+

Marguerite Kaye is one of my favourite authors and is someone I know can be relied upon to create interesting characters and situations that are firmly grounded in their historical settings, while also crafting a compelling and emotional romance between her hero and heroine.  Readers – like me – who are always on the look-out for historicals featuring non-titled heroes will want to give A Forbidden Liaison with Miss Grant a look, as will those interested in reading a love story between a more mature couple.

In 1822, the city of Edinburgh is frantically preparing for a highly anticipated visit by King George IV, the first visit to the city by a reigning British monarch since 1651. Miss Constance Grant watches it all with a sense of frustration; after the clearance (a common practice at this time, wherein landowners evicted their tenants to make way for more profitable flocks of sheep) of the Highland village of Clachan Bridge left her homeless, she was offered a home by a dear friend of her late mother’s and now resides with that lady in Edinburgh.  It’s perhaps not what she had envisioned for herself, but during the last four years, she has found renewed purpose in working tirelessly to bring to light the horrors being committed in the Scottish Highlands in the name of progress, to speak out on behalf of those who are unable to speak for themselves – the ever dwindling numbers of Highland inhabitants who are likely to soon face eviction.  However, as she approaches her fortieth birthday, Constance is starting to wonder if her efforts have been in vain:

Had this crusade lost its purpose, leaving her in limbo, unable to give up on it, yet failing to make any headway?… Six years was a big chunk of a life to be rootless and homeless, expending her time on a cause few cared about.

Grayson Maddox, a widower in his early forties, is the owner of a successful shipbuilding business on the Clyde.  He’s the epitome of the self-made man; he’s worked hard for what he has and now enjoys a life of considerable comfort and ease, but he never forgets where he’s come from.  After the loss of his wife eight years earlier, he’s devoted his life to two things – his business and his children – and has had no time, or desire really, for anything else.  Until he meets a confident, alluring woman down at the Leith docks and feels an immediate sense of familiarity and connection the like of which he’s never felt with anyone.  After they make their introductions, Grayson finds himself babbling about his reasons for being in Edinburgh (to secure accommodation for his family during the King’s visit), about his business, about his children… and when he collects himself and apologises for pouring all this out to a complete stranger, he offers to leave Constance to enjoy the view in solitude – but she stops him.

Ms. Kaye evokes the instant connection and attraction that zings between Constance and Grayson superbly well, creating something so visceral that it leaps off the page.  After a little more conversation and then a shared meal, during which the couple acknowledge the strength of their mutual attraction, they spend a passionate afternoon in bed, something as unexpected as it is intensely fulfilling for both of them.  Afterwards, Grayson sees Constance home, and as they prepare to say goodbye, they realise that they don’t want to, that the connection they feel is something extraordinary and that they want to spend more time together, just talking and, as Grayson puts is “letting the world go hang” for a little while.  He’s in Edinburgh for a few more days – Constance agrees to see him again until the end of his visit.

Both Constance and Grayson go into this … whatever it is… knowing that it has an end date and with no expectations of each other. But it’s very clear to the reader that the damage has been done and they’re already more than half in love with each other – and that they know it as well, although they’re both in strong denial. They both have their own very different lives to go back to, so wanting something that simply can’t be is pointless and will just make their eventual parting even more painful. But as we follow them through the week it’s obvious they’re made for each other; they talk about their lives, their pasts, their hopes -about almost everything… but that ‘almost’ is the thing that may eventually divide them.

The author’s eye for historical detail is superb; the visit by George IV to Edinburgh was greeted by almost delirious enthusiasm and elevated into a grand spectacle by Sir Walter Scott, who invented many rites which were subsequently hailed as ancient traditions in his quest to present the King as a new Jacobite monarch who was as much a Stuart by blood as Bonnie Prince Charlie. It was a three-ring-circus and then some, and I enjoyed Constance and Grayson’s quiet cynicism about it all.

On the downside however, some of that detail was perhaps just a tiny bit of overkill at times, as I found myself eager for the next conversation between Constance and Grayson about something other than the ridiculous pageantry or shipbuilding. It was all very interesting, don’t get me wrong, I just found it interrupted the flow of the romantic storyline at times. And also, while the romance is utterly gorgeous and the genuine emotional connection between the leads is palpable, when it really comes down to it, the reasons keeping the couple apart are not all that convincing. Grayson has devoted his life to his work and to his children – which also brings with it a complicated family situation – while Constance has devoted hers to her writing; and while I can see how her ‘radical’ sympathies could cause problems for Grayson, they spend so much time thinking about how they can’t be together, that they don’t stop to consider what they could do in order to make it possible for them to make a future together. And in the end, it’s all sorted out in a couple of pages.

Those quibbles apart however, A Forbidden Liaison with Miss Grant is a beautifully sensual character-driven romance featuring an attractive couple whose life experience and maturity makes for a refreshingly different and thoroughly enjoyable love story.

The Inconvenient Elmswood Marriage (Penniless Brides of Convenience #4) by Marguerite Kaye

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Their marriage was a solution…

Until passion turns it into a problem!

Lord and Lady Elmswood’s convenient marriage has allowed them to live separate lives for years. Until larger-than-life Daniel almost dies and Kate must nurse the husband she barely knows back to health…and discover how maddeningly attractive he is! With the clock ticking on his departure, they disagree on everything – except the impossibility of resisting each other!

Rating: B+

When I read The Earl’s Countess of Convenience, the first book in Marguerite Kaye’s Penniless Brides of Convenience series, I was instantly intrigued by the character of Kate, Lady Elmswood, guardian to the three young women – her nieces by marriage – who were the heroines of the other novels in the series.  In that book, we learned that Kate and her husband Daniel had been married for over a decade, but that theirs is a marriage in name only and they haven’t seen each other since they wed as Daniel spends his time travelling the world.

In the prologue, we meet Kate and Daniel a decade earlier, at a point when Kate, the daughter of Elmswood Manor’s steward, has actually been managing the estate for the past couple of years owing to her father’s deteriorating health.  When the old earl dies, Kate, concerned for her future and that of the estate and its tenants, and needing to provide and care for her ailing father, conceives a daring plan as a way of doing all those things, as well as continuing to manage and improve the estate which is the only home she’s ever known.  Daniel Fairfax – the new Earl of Elmswood – has no intention of settling in England and plans to return to his travels abroad as soon as his father’s estate is settled, and Kate seizes the opportunity to propose her audacious scheme; that they marry.  This will enable Kate to all the things she wants to do and will benefit Daniel as he will be able to leave Elmswood knowing it is in good hands.

In the intervening decade, Kate became guardian to her husband’s three nieces (his sister’s children), all of whom have now found love and are making families of their own – and Kate is, for the first time in a long time, without a purpose and feeling a little adrift.  The estate is running so well that it doesn’t really need her any more, and she is trying to decide what she wants to do with the rest of her life when she receives news that Daniel is seriously ill, and that she must travel to Cyprus in order to bring him home.

The months spent travelling to and then home via Crete, Malta, Gibraltar and many other fascinating places has brought home to Kate the narrowness of her world and made her realise that she has spent so long looking after other people that she has neglected to look after herself.  She is now trying to decide what kind of life she wants to pursue:

“I can’t spend the rest of my life living vicariously through the girls.  I want to create new memories for myself.”

It also became clear during the journey that her husband was not an explorer but some sort of spy.

Daniel is well on the road to recovery when they receive a visit from Lord Armstrong (who will be familiar to readers of a number of Ms. Kaye’s other books) and Sir Marcus Denby, who were the gentlemen who pretty much ordered Kate to go to bring Daniel home. When they leave, Daniel isn’t at all happy.  He’s been ordered to stay at Elmswood for three months and to act the part of Lord Elmswood, disporting himself with his very faithful little wife, and he’s furious.  He knows he’s being punished for the actions that ultimately caused his cover to be compromised and led to his capture, and feels as though he’s merely been transferred from one gaol to another.  He has never troubled to hide his dislike of Elmswood and his desire to be elsewhere, but he has no alternative but to stay put until such time as his superiors are prepared to trust him with another mission.

Kate and Daniel’s story is as much about Kate’s desire to find a purpose and to broaden her narrow horizons and embark upon the next phase of her life as it is about discovering the reasons behind Daniel’s hatred of Elmswood and the mutual attraction growing between them.

I liked Kate, who is brave, honest, pragmatic and caring.  She knows Daniel doesn’t want to stay in England and is fully prepared to make plans for her future that don’t include him, no matter how hard that may be after three months spent in his company and getting to know more about him.  She’s well aware that the attraction she and Daniel share doesn’t mean to him what it means to her; she’s okay with that and wants to explore these new feelings of desire she’s experiencing, knowing it’s likely to be her only chance to do so.  She’s prepared to risk the inevitable heartbreak for the chance of intimacy with the man she’s coming to love.  Daniel is a complex character whose backstory is drip-fed throughout the story as Ms. Kaye slowly peels away the layers of a man who has spent so long pretending to be someone else that he has lost sight of who Daniel Fairfax really is.  He comes across as rather cold and unfeeling to begin with, trying desperately to maintain his distance from his wife, to whom he is strongly – and most inconveniently – attracted.  As the days and weeks pass, he finds Kate to be an interesting and inquisitive companion, a woman with a keen mind and a ready wit – and a bald honesty that sometimes makes him uncomfortable.

It’s hard to see how there can be a happy ending for two characters whose desires are so very different, but Marguerite Kaye pulls it off in a believable and heart-wrenching manner with both characters embarking on journeys of self-discovery that eventually bring them full-circle and back to each other in the full knowledge that they’ve found exactly what they need in one another.

The inconvenient Elmswood Marriage is an excellent character-driven romance featuring two complex and strongly-drawn protagonists.  I had a quibble with one aspect of the plot (which I can’t say too much about because – spoilers) to do with the reasons behind Daniel’s hatred of Elmswood, but it’s a minor quibble and one that won’t prevent me from giving the book a strong recommendation.

The Earl’s Countess of Convenience (Penniless Brides of Convenience #1) by Marguerite Kaye

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A countess in name only…

…tempted by a night with her husband!

Part of Penniless Brides of Convenience: Eloise Brannagh has witnessed first-hand the damage unruly passion can cause. Yet she craves freedom, so a convenient marriage to the Earl of Fearnoch seems the perfect solution! Except Alexander Sinclair is more handsome, more intriguing, more everything, than Eloise anticipated. Having set her own rules for their marriage, her irresistible husband might just tempt Eloise to break them!

Rating: C

It isn’t always easy to write a review of an average or sub-par book, and it’s even less so when it’s an average or sub-par book by a favourite author, so I’m sorry to say that The Earl’s Countess of Convenience, the first in Marguerite Kaye’s new four-part Penniless Brides of Convenienceseries is a – fortunately rare – misfire.

In it, we meet Eloise Brannagh, her twin sisters Estelle and Phoebe and their aunt-by-marriage and guardian Kate, Lady Elmswood (in whom I was immediately more interested than the heroine, which wasn’t a good sign), with whom they have lived since the deaths of their parents some five years earlier.

The book opens as Kate has received a letter from her absent husband (the girls’ uncle) in which he suggests that Eloise may wish to consider a friend of his, the Earl of Fearnoch, as a prospective husband. Fearnoch needs to marry quickly in order to secure his title and estates – and with no dowry and no social position to attract suitors, the sisters are not likely to be inundated with suitable offers of marriage, so the possibility of marriage to an earl – albeit a marriage of convenience – is not something to be sneezed at. Eloise agrees to meet the earl and to see if she thinks they will suit; she’s not prepared to sacrifice her life to misery and even though such a match would enable her to support her sisters and attain a degree of independence, she won’t go consent to it if she and the earl don’t get on.

When Alexander Sinclair arrives at the appointed time, Eloise can’t help but wonder why such a gorgeous man would need or want to marry a nobody like her – surely there must be ladies of quality queueing around the block to marry someone so eligible and handsome! Alexander quickly dispels that thought, and the conversation he and Eloise engage in here is refreshingly frank, which I liked; after all these are two complete strangers contemplating a lifetime arrangement for purely practical purposes, so I was pleased that they were both upfront with each other about their plans and motives. Alex explains that the nature of his work – he’s a Victualling Commissioner at the Admiralty – means that he spends a lot of time out of England, and he is adamant that Eloise should realise their relationship will never be anything other than a convenient arrangement for them both. He doesn’t expect or want them to develop feelings for one another, and children are categorically out of the question. Having seen her own parents’ marriage implode because of her mother’s infidelities, her father’s desperate love and their frequent rows, Eloise has absolutely no wish for love or intimacy, so doesn’t see those stipulations as in any way problematic. And because she has no experience of men and her only female role model is a woman living in a loveless, sexless marriage who hasn’t seen hide nor hair of her husband in the entire six years since they wed, she has no idea what those tummy flutterings at the sight of Alex’s smile might mean.

I’m a huge fan of marriage-of-convenience stories, but this one just didn’t work for me for a number of reasons. Firstly – and to get this out of the way – I was disappointed that Ms. Kaye, whose research is usually impeccable, chose to base the story on an erroneous premise, namely that Alex would lose his title and inheritance if he wasn’t married by his thirtieth birthday. British inheritance law doesn’t work like that. Add to that Alex’s insistence that he and Eloise should act like besotted newly-weds in case his dissolute cousin worked out the real reason for their marriage and then moved to challenge Alex’s right to the earldom… again, nope, for the same reason. But okay, taking that as a springboard for the rest of the story and moving on, I found the characters hard to warm to, especially Alex, who is too blow hot/blow cold towards Eloise and doesn’t seem able to make up his mind and then stick to his choices. Eloise is a very down-to-earth kind of heroine, but I have problems with characters – and to be fair, it’s normally heroes – who eschew relationships because their parents were miserable together, so I found it difficult to believe that an intelligent young woman would decide love and marriage weren’t for her because she didn’t want to turn out like her mother, a self-professed “slave to passion” whose selfishness wrecked her marriage.

There’s a sub-plot concerning Alex’s relationship with his mother and his suspicions about his birth which is resolved in the blink of an eye; his secret job isn’t secret at all given all the times we’re told about Alex’s ability to lie – the nature of Alexander’s real endeavours required him to be an accomplished fabricator – or that in his line of work he wasn’t even supposed to have a wife; and the past mistake which has him so dead set against falling in love is anti-climactic when finally revealed. There’s so much going on here that the story quickly loses focus. Eloise’s conviction that romance isn’t for her melts away fairly easily; and the introduction of Alex’s boss, who drags Eloise off for a private chat at their first meeting and then proceeds to drop all sorts of heavy-handed hints about Alex’s job while at the same time making it clear it’s – shhhh! – a Big Sooper-Seekrit, was just really, really odd.

The best part of the book – and the reason I’ve not gone lower with the grade – is the way in which the author allows Alex and Eloise time to talk and get to know each other, both before and after their marriage. Apart from one thing (Alex’s not-so-secret job) they’re honest with each other about their expectations and I liked the way in which they entered into their bargain with their eyes wide open – even though their belief that they would be the same people with the same wants and needs ten, twenty or thirty years down the line was perhaps a little naïve.

I’m a big fan of Marguerite Kaye and have given a number of her books DIKs and high grades, but sadly, The Earl’s Countess of Convenience isn’t among them. Even the best of us is entitled to an off-day, so I’ll chalk this one up to experience and hope that the next book in the series, A Wife Worth Investing In, sees the author returned to form.

A Scandalous Winter Wedding (Matches Made in Scandal #4) by Marguerite Kaye

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Kirstin Blair has spent seven years trying to forget brooding Cameron Dunbar. Now self-made man Cameron needs her help to recover his missing niece, and Kirstin must face the truth: seeing him again sparks the same irresistible attraction that first brought them together! She must decide… Resist, or give in to temptation and risk Cameron discovering everything she’s fought so hard to protect…

Rating: B

The novels in Marguerite Kaye’s Matches Made in Scandal series have all been linked by the presence of the mysterious Procurer, a woman whose business is matching people with seemingly insoluble problems with someone who stands a very good chance of helping them to resolve them – and that person is usually a woman to whom life has not been kind and who deserves a second chance.

In A Scandalous Winter Wedding, readers are finally given more than a glimpse of the Procurer and we learn more of her backstory as she decides to undertake the search for two missing girls herself rather than finding someone else to take it on.  The two girls – a young lady visiting London with her mother,  and her maid – went missing from their hotel one night and have not been seen since, and the Procurer – otherwise, Miss Kirstin Blair – knows that she has the requisite skills and contacts most likely to ensure a happy outcome.  But that’s not the only reason she finds herself compelled to take on this particular case.  She’s been contacted by the girl’s uncle, Mr. Cameron Dunbar, a wealthy merchant from Glasgow – and the man with whom Kirstin spent one gloriously passionate night six years earlier when she was making her way to London after the death of her father, intending to make a new life for herself.  She has never forgotten either the man or their night together, and, in spite of herself, can’t help wanting to know what has become of him since.  After reading his letter, she decides to meet him in person as the Procurer, engineering their meeting in such a way as he won’t be able to see her face properly; and after hearing him out, agrees to help him track down the missing girls, fully intending to follow her usual procedure and find someone else to assist him.  Which, in a way, she does – sending Kirstin Blair to him while leaving her long-time assistant to oversee the Procurer’s business.

Ms. Kaye does a splendid job here of showing just how well suited to each other Kristin and Cameron are; he very clearly admires her intelligence, her perspicacity and her pragmatism and respects her for who she is, while Kristin appreciates similar qualities in Cameron and admires his determination to do the right thing no matter the personal cost.  They work together seamlessly, each playing to their strengths and recognising each other’s, and there’s no attempt on either part to exclude the other for their own protection.  This is very much a relationship based on mutual understanding and intellectual equality, which is one of the things that makes this second-chance romance work so very well.  Another thing, of course, is the chemistry between the couple that bubbles and sizzles nicely as the author allows the attraction that has never really diminished to build gradually until it becomes impossible for either character to deny it any longer.

The one thing that didn’t really work for me is something that happens towards the end – I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but put simply, Kirstin reacts to something in a way that seemed totally out of character for a woman who has, up until this point, been level-headed and clear-sighted about everything.  She suddenly turns into this over-emotional woman I didn’t recognise – and I understand that it’s partly a knee-jerk reaction to something she had hoped Cameron wouldn’t find out (and her big secret is fairly easy to guess even before its revealed), but it was such a huge character reversal that I felt almost as though I had whiplash!  And the way she attributed motivations to Cameron while knowing perfectly well what sort of man he was felt really off.

Fortunately, Ms. Kaye doesn’t draw out this point for too long, and effects a reconciliation swiftly and with Kirsten’s full acknowledgement of her error, showing her to be exactly the sort of woman I’d believed her out to be – someone with great personal integrity and the ability to weigh up a situation and come to a considered conclusion, as well as someone strong enough to be able to admit when she was wrong.  Cameron is a similarly appealing character – a successful businessman who has become so by dint of his own hard work and who, in spite of his illegitimacy, knows who he is and is comfortable in his own skin.  He sees Kirstin for exactly who she is and loves her for it, never for one moment wanting to change her or for her to be someone she is not.

A Scandalous Winter Wedding provides a fitting conclusion to what has been a very strong series from one of my favourite authors of historical romance.  Ms. Kaye always writes with intelligence and insight, her research is detailed and she rounds-out her characters so that they feel like real people with real dilemmas and real emotions rather than cardboard cut-outs.  If you’ve been following the Matches Made in Scandal series, you’ll need no urging from me to pick up this final volume, and if you haven’t, each book works as a standalone, so this is as good a place to start as any.  And if you’re just a wee bit tired of all those titled folks waltzing their way around ballrooms, this book will make a refreshing change.

His Rags to Riches Contessa (Matches Made in Scandal #3) by Marguerite Kaye

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From the streets of London…

…to Venetian high society!

To catch his father’s murderer, broodingly arrogant Conte Luca del Pietro requires help from a most unlikely source—Becky Wickes, London’s finest card-sharp. Against the decadence of Carnival, Becky’s innocence and warmth captivates Luca, but as their chemistry burns hotter the stakes in their perilous game are getting higher. For Luca is no longer playing only for justice—but also to win Becky’s heart…

Rating: B

His Rags to Riches Contessa is the third book in Marguerite Kaye’s Matches Made in Scandal series, and tells the story of an actress and card sharp who is hired to help a Venetian nobleman obtain revenge against the man who killed his father.  The four novels in the set are linked by a mysterious woman known only as The Procurer; a woman whose clients come to her “with complex and unusual problems requiring unique solutions”, solutions she provides while at the same time helping young women to whom life has dealt a poor hand make themselves a better future.  Becky Wickes is one such; abandoned by the man she loved – and whom she believed loved her – to face a future as a fugitive from the law and a possible death sentence should she be apprehended – Becky has gone to ground and holed up in a dingy room in the rookery of St. Giles.  It’s here that the Procurer finds her and offers her the chance to change her life.

Becky travels to Venice, to the luxurious Palazzo Pietro, where she will meet the Procurer’s client – the Conte del Pietro – and receive all the details of her assignment.  She is surprised to discover that the Conte – Luca – is half-English on his mother’s side and that he spent many years in the Royal Navy before his father’s death necessitated his return home, and even more so when she finally learns the reason for her journey.  Luca explains that his father and his father’s best friend, Don Massimo Sarti, had together been respected government officials who had acted to preserve as many of the city’s treasures as they could before Venice surrendered to Napoléon some twenty years earlier.  The plan was to hide as many items of value as possible – especially those pertaining to the city’s heritage – and to return them once the Republic of Venice was restored, but things didn’t quite work out that way.  Venice was used as a pawn over the years and only now, after Napoléon’s defeat, is the situation stable enough to consider restoring all the artefacts that the men had spirited away.  In his final communication to his son, Luca’s father explained that he had visited the hiding place in order to make an inventory only to discover the place was empty.  It seems Don Massimo has stolen everything he and Luca’s father had vowed to preserve in order to fund his gambling habit – and when threatened with exposure had his former friend killed.

Luca wants revenge against Don Massimo, and believes he can obtain it with Becky’s help.  Gambling is illegal in Venice at all times other than during Carnevale, which lasts from February to Lent, when the rules are relaxed and a number of ridotti (private gaming hells) open up for deep play.  Becky is to play the part of Regina di Denari, the Queen of Coins, a mysterious, masked woman who is a force to be reckoned with at the card table, and Luca plans for her to win back everything Don Massimo stole from his father and the city, which will ruin him completely.

Against the backdrop of the hedonistic Carnevale – where everyone is masked and no-one is what they seem – Luca and Becky find themselves fighting the attraction that’s been growing between them since the day they met.  They both know the other is a distraction they can’t afford – and besides, a girl from the London slums who grew up making her living as a street performer is a completely ineligible match for a wealthy man of Luca’s status, who is expected to make the sort of practical society marriage made by every Venetian nobleman.  Even so, somehow these two are perfect for each other as Becky’s down-to-earth manner and attitude complement Luca’s similarly pragmatic outlook; yet it emerges that there may be more separating them than a question of class. When Becky holds up a mirror to Luca’s driving need for vengeance, he is forced to consider the nature of obsession… and faced with some impossible choices.

Marguerite Kaye’s descriptions of the sights and sounds of Venice, and its customs and traditions are extremely well done; so much so in fact, that I was surprised to learn from her author’s notes that she has never been there!  She expertly conjures up mental images of the changing colours of the wintry sky and the waters of the Grand Canal, giving the reader an armchair tour of the palazzos and bustling marketplaces of the city in just such a way as to whet the appetite without interrupting the flow of the story.

The relationship between Becky and Luca builds over several weeks, although their attraction is instantaneous;  they share an almost-kiss on something like Becky’s second day at the palazzo, which felt way too soon, especially after Becky’s determination that she’d had enough of men after the way her lying bastard ex (my words, not the authors!) treated her.   After this, though, things slow down, and the author instead makes the most of their growing attraction and allows it to simmer through lingering looks, touches and forbidden kisses until neither Luca nor Becky can deny or resist its compulsion.

His Rags to Riches Contessa is a romantic and entertaining story featuring two strongly drawn and appealing principal characters.  The revenge plot, while perfectly in keeping with the setting, was ultimately a little weak, though, as there was no real doubt about the outcome; far more interesting was the dilemma Luca faced when forced to confront the harsh reality of the consequences of his actions.  Still, this is a strong addition to the Matches Made in Scandal series, and is an historical romance I’m happy to recommend.

From Courtesan to Convenient Wife (Matches Made in Scandal #2) by Marguerite Kaye

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Every woman wants to marry him…

But what if he’s already taken?

In this Matches Made in Scandal story Jean-Luc Bauduin, Parisian society’s most eligible bachelor, is determined only to take a wife of his choosing. And until that day comes he’ll ward off his admirers by hiring Lady Sophia Acton to wear his ring! The passion Jean-Luc shares with his convenient bride is enormously satisfying—until he discovers Sophia’s utterly scandalous past!

Rating: B+

The four books in Marguerite Kaye’s new series, Matches Made in Scandal, are set in some of the world’s most exciting cities – St. Petersburg, Paris, Venice and London – and are all linked by a mysterious woman known only as The Procurer who specialises in helping young women whom life has dealt a poor hand and offering them a chance to rebuild their lives and make themselves a better future. In From Courtesan to Convenient Wife, The Procurer extends that offer to Lady Sophia Acton, a well-bred young lady whose fall from grace has been spectacular and who is now on the verge of penury.

The Procurer’s client is a successful and extremely wealthy Parisian wine merchant named Jean-Luc Bauduin, who needs to find himself a wife very quickly.  Or rather, he needs to find himself a woman to pretend to be his wife for as long as it takes for him to prove to the young lady who insists he is contracted to marry her that he is not the man she thinks he is and therefore, not subject to the contract she says was drawn up by their fathers when they were both children.  It’s an unusual situation, but in taking the job, Sophia will earn enough money to be able to leave London, where her reputation is in shreds, and make a new life for herself elsewhere.

When Mademoiselle Juliette de Cressy presented herself as his contracted bride, Jean-Luc was convinced she was some sort of con-artist.  Insisting he is the rightful Duc de Montendre, who was hidden away as an infant  to preserve him from the ravages of the Revolution, she even showed him a copy of the contract, signed by her recently deceased father, the Comte de Cressy, and the late Duc de Montendre. But  Jean-Luc isn’t the son of a duke – he was born in Cognac and is the only child of Monsieur and Madame Bauduin, although unfortunately, he has no documentation or living relatives who can attest to his identity.  He soon comes to accept that Juliette isn’t trying to con him – she genuinely believes him to be the Duc de Montendre – and he decides that the only way to get her to realise she is mistaken is to show her that he’s already married, which will also buy him  some time to gather the evidence to refute her claim.  Which is where Sophia comes in.

Sophia settles into her role as Madame Bauduin quickly, and is even more convincing than Jean-Luc could have hoped for.  Part of the deal is that Sophia is under no obligation to tell him anything about herself, and he scrupulously refrains from asking questions he longs to ask; she is clearly not an actress, and equally clearly has been brought up as a lady – which makes her acceptance of his commission even more puzzling.  But as the days pass and she fits herself almost seamlessly into his life, Jean-Luc finds it harder and harder to remember that their marriage is a sham and begins to dream of a life spent with Sophia at his side, his wife in truth.

Their romance develops quickly, but the couple has such fabulous chemistry that it’s easy to buy into their growing feelings for one another.  They are simply adorable together; their interactions are funny, sweet, tender and sensual by turns, and I loved the way they are so easily able to joke together about the ridiculousness of their situation, even as they are playing the besotted newly-weds for the benefit of those around them.

Sophia is surprised at the strength of her attraction to Jean-Luc, given that her experience with men has given her a deep distrust of them and their motives.  Although born into the nobility, her life has not been easy; her father thought girls were worthless and did not provide well for Sophia and her sister, who was chronically ill, even refusing to pay for Felicity to travel to a climate more suitable for her health.  Love of her sister set Sophia on a path no well-bred young lady should have been forced to follow and she became the mistress of an unpleasant, manipulative man who, when Sophia ended their arrangement after her sister’s death, made his liaison with Sophia known and dragged her name through the mud.

It doesn’t take long for Sophia to realise that Jean-Luc is decent and honourable, and the more time she spends with him, the stronger her feelings for him become.  She knows he cares for her, too, but her intention was always to use the money she would earn from this commission to live alone and independently… but that isn’t such an attractive prospect now that she has fallen deeply in love.  Yet she can see no alternative.  The truth of her scandalous past is sure to repulse Jean-Luc and she can’t bear the thought of living with the disapprobation and disgust she is sure will develop over time.  Jean-Luc sees clearly that Sophia has put others before herself and her own happiness at every opportunity, while she believes herself to be tainted by her actions.  Her perception of her unworthiness is the principal source of conflict in the romance;  Sophia is effectively imprisoned by her past, and has to learn to, as Jean-Luc says, lay the ghosts to rest and look to the future.

From Courtesan to Convenient Wife is a gorgeously romantic and truly delightful read in which the sexual tension between Jean-Luc and Sophia crackles right from the start.  Jean-Luc is a wonderful hero – he’s a refreshing change in a genre full of arrogant dukes and marriage-shy bachelors; he’s handsome and charming (of course!) but he’s also highly intuitive, very sure of himself and his place in the world, and has worked very hard to become the successful and wealthy businessman he now is.  He oozes confidence – not arrogance – which makes it all the more affecting when he begins to doubt everything he thought he knew about himself in the face of Juliette’s insistence that he’s not plain Monsieur Bauduin, but the rightful Duc de Montendre.  Sophia is the sort of heroine it’s easy to root for; life has dealt her a crappy hand, but it’s not broken her and she refuses to be cowed.  She’s quick-witted, intelligent and beautiful and it’s easy to understand why Jean-Luc is so completely bowled over by her.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the Parisian setting, and am eagerly looking forward to the next book in the Matches Made in Scandal series.

From Governess to Countess (Matches Made in Scandal #1) by Marguerite Kaye

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The scandalous truth…

She’s the Count’s new mistress!

In this Matches Made in Scandal story Count Aleksei Derevenko hires governess Allison Galbraith for her skills as a herbalist, not as a mistress! But when rumours spread Allison is shocked by her wanton reaction to Aleksei. His inscrutable icy blue eyes promise white-hot nights of sin! She knows too well how fragile her reputation is, but will the price of their passion be worth paying?

Rating: B-

I’ve been looking forward to Marguerite Kaye’s new, four-book Matches Made in Scandal series, as each story is set in a different European city. While I certainly don’t object to historical romances set in the UK, I am always keen to venture elsewhere, and was definitely enticed by the thought of reading romances set in some of the most fabulous cities in the world – St. Petersburg, Paris, Venice and, finally, London.

From Governess to Countess opens with renowned – and now disgraced – herbalist, Allison Galbraith receiving a visit from a mysterious woman known only as ‘The Procurer’.  This character links the four books in the series, and has a reputation for helping women in need of redemption and a second chance.  Allison, a forthright Scot, had acquired a reputation as London’s pre-eminent herbalist, the only option open to a woman with a vocation to help the sick at the time the book is set.  But when we meet her, she has been ostracised and vilified in the scandal sheets by a pre-eminent society physician following an incident to which the reader is not made privy until later in the book, but which has obviously destroyed not only Allison’s reputation but her confidence, too.

The Procurer tells Allison that she has come to offer her the chance to rebuild her life and career.  She has been charged with finding someone with Allison’s particular talents to fill the position of governess to the children of the recently deceased Duke and Duchess Derevenko, and, enthused at the idea of travel and of getting away from England for a time – and the hefty fee – Allison agrees.

Count Aleksei Derevenko is a military man through and through, and was somewhat exasperated when he learned his late brother, Michael, had changed his will shortly before his death and named Aleksei as guardian to his young children.  He can’t understand why his brother made the change when his former choice, their cousin, Felix, would have done a much better job, given he is familiar with all the court customs and protocols it will be necessary for children of such illustrious lineage to learn as they grow up.


When the woman he has engaged as governess for Catiche, Elena and Nikki arrives, Aleksei is momentarily taken aback.  His idea of a governess – and herbalist – is certainly not the voluptuous young red-head standing before him who stirs up all the desires and appetites he has had no opportunity to indulge for months. By the same token Allison had not expected her new employer to be a tall, striking military man with ice blue eyes and a mouth that puts her in mind of kissing.

Over a cup of zavarka (black tea), Aleksei explains to Allison that he requires her services as a governess for as long as it takes him to make alternative arrangements for the guardianship of his nieces and nephew.  Their former governess, Anna Orlova – to whom they had all been very attached – disappeared without explanation just before his brother’s death, and Aleksei does not feel equipped to deal with them.  He plans to spend some of his time trying to find Orlova and to bring her back if he can; in the meantime, he wants Allison to assume charge of them.

What Aleksei doesn’t tell Allison until a little later, however, is the reason he particularly wanted someone knowledgeable about herbs and their properties to fill the position.  He strongly suspects his brother-in-law and sister were murdered, and wants Allison to ascertain if the symptoms they exhibited could have been produced by any of the herbs available in the palace gardens or elsewhere in St. Petersburg.

From Governess to Countess is therefore part romance and part mystery as Allison and Aleksei work together to discover the truth about his brother’s death, while at the same time exploring the attraction that has pulled them toward one another since their very first meeting.  Neither of them wants anything permanent; Aleksei intends to return to the army and Allison to England, and both agree that their liaison must be of finite duration.  Neither of them, however, has bargained on love.

Ms. Kaye develops the relationship between her two protagonists very well, and the easy friendship into which they fall is enjoyable to read and something a little out of the ordinary for the genre.  They are intensely drawn to one another physically, but they connect on an emotional level, too, and their frequent exchanges are refreshingly honest.  There is no drawn-out angst, even towards the end when it seems the time for parting has arrived, and I was very relieved at the lack of flimsy contrivance for the sake of injecting some unnecessary drama into the story.  I liked the way that Allison uses her time in St. Petersburg to really think about what she wants to do with the rest of her life and work out how to pursue an independent future.  Aleksei is an attractive hero who is obviously an alpha male, but without the arrogance that is so often associated with the type; he’s thoughtful, insightful and charming, with a strong sense of honour and a good sense of humour, and the way he comes to appreciate the importance of family and to realise that the children need his love and guidance is nicely done.

On the downside, however, I found myself rather more invested in the friendship and comradeship between Allison and Aleksei than in their romance, which is pretty much founded on insta-lust.  The couple has undoubted sexual chemistry, but Allison’s eagerness to jump into bed with Aleksei at the first opportunity makes her seem far too modern in spite of the different social mores of St. Petersburg and her desire to take charge of her own life. There are a couple of places in the mystery part of the story where both protagonists jump to conclusions without foundation, and in one particular place, they make an assumption that comes so completely out of the blue – and is so obviously wrong – that I had to read it several times to make sure I’d read it correctly!

Marguerite Kaye is one of my go-to authors, and even when her books don’t work for me on every level, her stories are extremely well-written and researched, her characters are interesting, and she makes excellent use of whichever historical setting she has chosen.  While From Governess to Countess wasn’t a resounding success, it’s nonetheless an enjoyable, low-angst read, and one that merits a recommendation in spite of the reservations I have expressed.

Scandal at the Christmas Ball by Marguerite Kaye and Bronwyn Scott

This title may be purchased from Amazon

One Christmas house party leads to two Regency love affairs! 

A Governess for Christmas by Marguerite Kaye 

At the glittering Brockmore house party, former army major Drummond MacIntosh meets governess in disgrace Joanna Forsythe, who’s desperate to clear her name. Both are eager to put their pasts behind them, but their scandalous affair will make for a very different future…

Dancing with the Duke’s Heir by Bronwyn Scott 

As heir to a dukedom, Vale Penrith does not want a wife, and certainly not one like Lady Viola Hawthorne. So why does London’s Shocking Beauty tempt him beyond reason? Dare he try and tame her, or is a Christmas seduction the best way to bring her to surrender?

Rating: B (B+ for the Kaye, C for the Scott)

Scandal at the Christmas Ball is the second collaboration between historical romance authors Marguerite Kaye and Bronwyn Scott, and, like their previous work, Scandal at the Midsummer Ball, takes place at the country estate of the Duke and Duchess of Brockmore, a widely liked, respected and highly influential couple who are regarded as powerbrokers within the ton and whose invitations are much sought after.

Among their guests this Yuletide are the duke’s nephew and heir, Vale Penrith, Lady Viola Hawthorne, a shockingly fast young woman who goes out of her way to do and say outrageous things, and a former officer of the Scots Guards, Drummond MacIntosh, whose army career ended somewhat ignominiously three years earlier, just after the Battle of Waterloo.

A Governess for Christmas by Marguerite Kaye (Grade: B+)

Ms. Kaye is one of the few authors of historical romance who regularly writes about untitled, non-aristocratic progatonists, and she continues that trend in this poignant, tender and sometimes heart-wrenching story about an ex-army officer and an ill-treated, down-on-her-luck governess who find each other one Christmas but who will face some difficult choices if they are ever to make a life together.

Drummond MacIntosh has lived a somewhat reclusive existence for the past three-and-a-half years owing to the huge scandal that attended his catastrophic fall from grace.  With his reputation in tatters, he has finally accepted that he needs help if he is ever going to claw his way back from ruin and carve out a new and useful existence.  No less a personage than the Duke of Wellington himself arranged Drummond’s invitation to the Brockmores’ Christmas house party, but as Drummond wryly notes, the Duke wouldn’t have done such a thing if it hadn’t been ultimately useful to himself; he needs a man of Drummond’s good sense, practicality and ability to lead men at his back and is presenting Drummond to Brockmore “for inspection” as it were.  The whole thing leaves a bitter taste in Drummond’s mouth; he doesn’t want to be beholden to Wellington (or to anyone) and certainly not on terms which attempt to brush years of exile under the carpet and blame Drummond for acting as his conscience dictated.

Drummond’s situation is mirrored by that of Miss Joanna Forsythe, a governess who has been invited to the party so she can meet a prospective employer.  Joanna had a comfortable position in the household of Lady Christina Robertson, but has been reduced to teaching at a ramshackle school in return for her bed and board, after she was wrongly accused of theft and dismissed without a character. Like Drummond, she has been invited to the Brockmores with a view to improving her situation, but also like him, the hoped for “improvement” falls short.  Joanna had hoped for an apology after her innocence was discovered and the real culprit owned up. But instead, her former employer wants to buy her off by the offer of an excellent new position and a sum of money.

Even before they know of the similarities of their respective situations, Drummond and Joanna are strongly drawn to each other and very soon find themselves exchanging confidences… and increasingly heated kisses.  I admit that the pair progresses to this stage rather quickly but Ms. Kaye creates such a strong emotional connection between them, and imbues their burgeoning relationship with such depth and longing that it’s possible to overlook its somewhat speedy beginning.  This is a pair of ordinary people in very difficult circumstances who demonstrate the importance of a spotless reputation to those who had to earn their living, for without it, there was little to no chance of their ever securing decent employment. But with Drummond on the verge of a prestigious appointment and a return from the cold, how can Joanna – and her tarnished reputation – stand in his way?

This is a beautifully wrought, heartfelt romance between two people in difficult circumstances.  I was completely gripped by Drummond’s story and applaud Ms. Kaye for the introduction of a character motivated by compassion whose actions were so misunderstood and reviled.  He’s not a character-type I’ve read in historical romance before, and I could be singing the author’s praises for that alone.  But added to a very well-crafted romance and a strong, determined heroine in the form of Joanna, A Governess for Christmas  makes my list of favourite seasonal reads.

Dancing with the Duke’s Heir by Bronwyn Scott (Grade: C)

In this story, a rather proper gentleman finds himself reluctantly fascinated by the most unsuitable sort of woman he could ever have imagined would attract him.  Vale Penrith, heir to the Duke of Brockmore, has still not recovered from the deaths of his father and older brother some years ago, and continues to find his role as a ducal heir somewhat ill-fitting.  He really would prefer to be left to his own devices in the library, but knows he will have to do his bit and take part in the various activities planned for the duration of the party.  He is also aware that while the Brockmores’ Christmas parties don’t have the same match-making reputation as their summer affairs, his uncle has a prospective bride lined up for him – something else he doesn’t want anything to do with.

Lady Viola Hawthorne, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Calton, is a determined, high-spirited woman whose deepest desire is to go to Vienna to study music.  “The Shocking Beauty” as she is known, has quite the scandalous reputation, all of it designed to put off any suitors so she can remain unwed and pursue her dreams of Vienna and a musical career.  She reckons that one final, massive scandal at the Brockmores’ party should do the trick once and for all and cause her parents to give up on their attempts to marry her off.  Hence her decision to climb a ladder to hang mistletoe from a chandelier in the hall while wearing no underwear; perched at the top, affording the crowd of young men below a glimpse of her ankles (and possibly other things besides) she manages to achieve her end just before the ladder wobbles and she falls – literally – into the arms of Vale Penrith, who is appalled and annoyed at such reckless, outrageous behaviour.

Viola likes what she sees, but Penrith, while gorgeous, is a stuffed shirt and not at all the sort of man she’d be interested in.  But when her friend, Lady Anne, tells Viola that her parents are trying to arrange a match with Penrith while she – Anne – is in love with someone else, Viola agrees to help her out by providing a distraction.  The problem is that she finds herself being distracted by Vale – who is not at all the cold fish she had first imagined – as much as he is distracted by her, and the more time they spend together, the more they discover about what lies behind their social masks and the more they are drawn together.

I have to say straight off that I really didn’t care for Viola in this story.  I admired her desire to forge her own path in her life, but her methods – which are, basically, to shock as many people as often as possible – are childish, and she behaves more like a mistress or courtesan than a duke’s daughter, drinking spirits, smoking and playing billiards with the men.  I’m sure not all young ladies at this time were as pure and virginal as fiction would have us believe, but Viola goes a little too far in the opposite direction for my taste.  Vale is much more likeable, but because I disliked the heroine, it was difficult to understand what he saw in her beyond the physical and I found it difficult to believe that two people possessed of such opposing personality types could forge a lasting relationship.

If you’re more tolerant of the spoiled and outrageous type of heroine than I am, this story might work better for you than it did for me.

Ultimately, Scandal at the Christmas Ball is something of an uneven read, but is worth it for the Kaye story alone.