How do you reach the heart of a man who distrusts and even fears love? That’s not an uncommon question in romances, but it’s handled superbly in Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels. This is one of those books I’ve meant to read for a long time. While this month’s theme is short fiction, I didn’t have that in the pile, so I substituted this a full-length novel. I was very glad I had.
A boy who grows up neglected and emotionally abused, abandoned by his mother and shunned by his father, doesn’t learn much about how to love. So it’s no wonder the Marquess of Dain guards his heart. He wants nothing to do with the polite sort of woman and spends most of his time engaged in the various entertaining forms of debauchery available in Paris in 1828.
One of his comrades these excesses is Bertie Trent, whose sister, Jessica, and grandmother come to pry him away from the fast set he’s joined. From the moment Dain and Jessica meet, attraction sparks between them, but neither actually likes the other, or so they think. A battle of wills commences with Jessica determined to wrest Bertie free of Dain’s influence and an insulted Dain determined to prove she can’t.
At the same time, neither can forget about the other or stop fantasizing about the other. Each of them wages an internal heart/head battle and tries to rationalize away their mutual attraction.
Matters come to a head when Dain inadvertently compromises Jessica. What happens after they’re discovered together fits their characters perfectly and keeps the conflict rolling in way that is not only clever but novel and yet sympathetic on both sides.
One of the things I most like about Jessica is that she’s smart. She’s good at reading situations and people, and she uses that to advantage in dealing with Dain. She’s also very composed and, thanks to helping to raise young male cousins, familiar with the thought processes of boys and men. When she brings her intelligence to bear on the problem of winning Dain’s heart, she wields a powerful weapon.
Dain, despite his brusqueness, stubbornness and tendency to intimidate those around him, has a kind heart. He tries to be fair to Jessica when he learns he’s been wrong. His errors are largely due to a mindset conditioned into him, but he’s not averse to revising his opinion.
The emotional struggle they wage is spiked by attraction, respect, and a healthy dose of lust. The push-pull of wanting and not wanting is superbly handled. The characters are engaging, and the story moves at a good pace.
For the TBR Challenge, I plan to post reviews only of books I can recommend enthusiastically. This is one of them.
Thanks to Wendy the Super Librarian for starting this challenge!