For All Eternity

A Perfect Scoundrel
by Heather Cullman
(Signet, $3.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-19952-9
A Perfect Scoundrel is on its way to my keeper box -- after I circulate it to all my romance-reading friends. Wonderfully well-drawn characters, fast-paced plotting, and careful attention to historical detail make for a wonderfully satisfying romance by the very talented Ms. Cullman.

Jane Wentworth loves Lord Quentin Somerville but Quentin wants Jane's beautiful and beloved sister, Rissa, who is the current toast of the London Season. Jane and Rissa are supposed to attend a costume ball but Rissa becomes ill and persuades Jane to wear her costume in the hope that Quentin will finally notice Jane.

Before you can say "Be careful what you wish for," Quentin has compromised Jane and must marry her. Although Quentin convinces Jane he wants to marry her, he's only doing so because his father is forcing him.

Being forced to wed doesn't sit well with Quentin. He doesn't want Jane for a wife; he doesn't want or understand the physical attraction that makes him lose control on their wedding night. So Quentin rids himself of his plain, unwanted wife by exiling her to his village estate in Worcestershire.

Badly bruised but not bowed, Jane thrives in the country as she never did in the city. Jane makes friends of all the villagers and brings hope and prosperity to a people who have been neglected by their lord for years. Quentin's father forces Quentin to leave London and spend time with his wife. So Quentin arrives in Worcestershire and is surprised and appalled by the fact that Jane spends much of her time mingling with the locals.

Quentin begins to admire and respect Jane tremendously for her intelligence and her skills at managing his estate, skills he doesn't have but wishes he did. Quentin is sure that the way he treated her before, during and after their wedding night can never be forgiven.

Quentin finds it hard to believe he never noticed before how pretty and kind Jane is. He also realizes that he was mistaken in thinking that the local villagers were merely dolts and not his equals. Quentin has much to make up for and he doesn't know if his wife will give him or their marriage the second chance he knows he doesn't deserve.

There's a good deal of historical detail to be found in A Perfect Scoundrel. The beliefs and customs of the time are well represented by the characters and the story line. They provide the kind of background and texture that bring this historical time period to life.

And the character development in A Perfect Scoundrel is simply outstanding. I have great admiration for an author, who isn't afraid to create flawed characters, push them to the edge and then redeem them through hard work and love.

In the beginning of this romance, Quentin's a gorgeous, first-rate jerk. He's spends too much time feeling sorry for himself because he was born a second son. His saving graces are that although he may do stupid, even mean things, he's neither stupid or mean. Quentin knows when he's done wrong, and he's capable of learning from his mistakes.

Jane, too, is capable of learning from her mistakes. She develops from an insecure girl who falls for a perfect physical specimen, into a strong woman who has more sense then to waste her love on a perfect scoundrel.

Quentin's journey into becoming the kind of man he and his family always wanted him to be is bumpy and often painful. It's also very good, very emotionally-charged reading.

--Judith Flavell

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