My Favorite Witch

An Undeniable Rogue

An Unmistakable Rogue

Scoundrel in Disguise
by Annette Blair
(5 Star, $26.95, PG-13) ISBN 1-59414-483-4
Scoundrel in Disguise begins badly. The story is set in 1847 England – ten years into the Victorian Era – but the heroine is dressed in dominatrix leather garb, and the hero’s blatant double entendre remarks deserve a sharp slap to the face.

The occasion is a job interview - the hero is applying for a job as the man of affairs for The Benevolent Society for Downtrodden Women run by the heroine. It’s a variation on the one-on-one confrontation that Jayne Ann Krentz has used for years to establish sexual tension between her characters, but it is ludicrously anachronistic in the purported circumstances. If I hadn’t been reading Scoundrel in Disguise in order to review it, this scene would have led me to abandon it by the end of the first chapter.

The heroine Jade Smithfield has fired the previous man of affairs because he tricked her dying grandmother into signing an option to sell land to a proposed railroad. Jade knows her grandmother would have been opposed had she been in her right mind. There’s something secreted in that portion of her land that Jade knows her grandmother would never have wanted revealed. Jade’s grandmother started The Benevolent Society to take in abused women and children and thoroughly indoctrinated Jade in the wickedness of all males. Jade has been an apt pupil until the day she meets Marcus Fitzalan.

Marcus seeks the job as man of affairs because someone is trying to sabotage the proposed railroad. He hopes that by being on the scene in coastal Newhaven he’ll uncover the plot to stop construction. Jade warns Marcus that the residents of Peacehaven, the home run by The Benevolent Society, are very wary of men. Marcus turns on the charm, and the women and children warm to him immediately. Even Emily, an adorable moppet who is particularly terrified, is quickly won over by his gentle manner.

The attraction between Jade and Marcus burns hotly. She thinks about how she desires Marcus. He thinks about getting Jade between the sheets. He talks. She talks.

So now I’ve introduced the characters, and you’re wondering what’s the plot. Coincidentally, at one-third of the way through the book, I was wondering the same thing! A series of weakly connected scenes where Jade and Marcus lust, talk dirty, and spend time together does not constitute a plot. About halfway through, a weak, intermittent plot shows up – Marcus and Jade have opposing views on the railroad issue and mischief is afoot – but it hardly registers.

Scoundrel in Disguise begins badly and then goes nowhere.

Jade is one of those hot-and-cold heroines. Hot to kiss, hot to get up close and personal, but quick to run away just as things get interesting. Men can’t be trusted. He’ll eventually leave her. She can’t reveal her secrets.

Marcus is the antidote to alpha heroes – those heroes whose leadership skills, physical mastery, and overwhelming sexuality steamroller the heroine’s reluctance. In spite of repeated references to stallions, Marcus is about as beta as they come. He spends most of his time either being adorably paternal with the kids at Peacehaven or lusting after Jade. At one point in the story, he’s outside watching her shadow as Jade undresses behind her curtained window. “Marcus’s mouth went dry, his boy part went on alert.”

When I pick up an historical romance, I expect the characters and situations to reflect the conditions of the time period. Little in Scoundrel in Disguise comes across as being compatible with the Victorian Era. Some of the situations are so off-key they’re jarring: all the women living at Peacehaven (remember, they’re living there because they’ve escaped abuse by men in their lives) attend a ball at the local assembly. Marcus dances with them then other men termed “suitors” eagerly line up to dance with them. Suitors?

With scarcely any plot, unrealistic characters, and anachronistic situations, Scoundrel in Disguise has little to offer a reader. This is one you’ll want to skip.

--Lesley Dunlap

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