Kissing the Bride

The Lily and the Sword

The Rose and the Shield

Mistress of Scandal
by Sara Bennett
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-079649-9
This is the third story of sisters whose mother is a madame of a house of ill repute in London in 1849. How she got to be where she is must have been in the first two stories. This one picks up as the mother, Aphrodite, is hiring a young man to find the woman who kidnapped her daughters twenty some years ago. She wants the name of the man who masterminded the plot. She has suspicions, but she needs proof.

Sebastian Thorne, aka the Earl of Wrothorne, has given up his life in the ton to be an investigator. Torn apart emotionally by a secret from his past that has to do with his sister Barbara, he left his home and has been scurrying about in the depths of London, making his way by helping people who don’t want to get their hands dirty.

The heroine is Francesca, the twenty-five year old “spinster” and last daughter. She is living in the home of her adopted mother, Amy Greentree. Amy took the girls in shortly after the kidnapping. She raised them and has helped the other two find true love. But she despairs about Francesca. Francesca is fearful of being like her mother and resents the fact they she has found them and wants to be part of their lives. She refuses to travel to London to see her, even though the other two have reconciled. Francesca loves the moors and the freedom there, but refuses to let anyone truly see her emotional, passionate nature. Hence she wears old and unsightly gowns and despises London.

Thorne and Francesca meet when Thorne is stuck in the mire of the moors and needs to be rescued from an almost certain death. He is there looking for Mrs. Slater, the woman who is responsible for the kidnapping. Her accomplice decides to kill Mr. Thorne because he is getting too close. Thus Francesca is treated to adventure after adventure with Mr. Thorne, along with a passionate kiss that she can’t seem to forget.

They meet again in London when Francesca tries to break up a child-stealing scene she has stumbled upon and Thorne saves her. They are thrown together and spend a lot of time together because they are attracted and because Francesca discovers Thorne is working for her mother.

This story starts off very slowly. If you had read the previous books, there might have been clues to help you understand what was happening. As a new reader, I struggled with trying to figure out who was who and why I cared. Many of the secrets are not revealed until the end. However, the biggest secret (who was the mastermind behind the kidnapping) was easy to figure out because there was only one possible person that could have been …mainly due to a lack of characters to choose from. The interaction between the characters was odd – either boring or intensely emotional. The intensity didn’t seem to always fit so the reader knew the character must be hiding something. The nature of much of the tale just made the pace plod along. A side romance between servants and one between Aphrodite and her bodyguard did not enliven it much.

Francesca and Thorne were hot under the covers, although I had a hard time buying Francesca’s reason for jumping into bed so fast and so often. For someone whose whole life was supposedly ruled by her fear of turning into a whore like her mother, she was quick to forget when a man came asking.

The story was ultimately adequate, but if I hadn’t had a whole afternoon free to read, I am not certain the pull to come back would have been there. Mistress of Scandal definitely didn’t live up to the “enthralling” quote on the front of the book.

--Shirley Lyons

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