The Best Intentions

The Bride Sale

Miss Lacey's Last Fling

Once a Dreamer

Once a Gentleman

Once a Scoundrel

 
Her Scandalous Affair
by Candice Hern
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-056516-0
***
Candice Hern has written some truly outstanding Regency-set historicals, but her latest effort features a surprisingly unsympathetic heroine. It’s hard to root for the romance when one feels the hero deserves much better.

Lady Isabel Weymouth is just out of mourning for her late husband and she’s looking for a rich man to marry. Isabel indulgently supports her younger brother’s gaming habits, reasoning that he’ll get such behavior out of his system soon enough and settle into adulthood. But it’s difficult to keep up appearances. Her husband, she found, owed huge sums to creditors. Apparently their lavish lifestyle was bought on credit, and Isabel had no idea. Where will she get her gowns and jewels, now that she has no money? She’s already sold off most of her jewels. Attracting a rich man is the answer.

Richard Mallory, the heir to the Earl of Dunstable, is looking for a woman wearing a ruby brooch that has been missing from his family for years. His grandfather is on his deathbed and the brooch disappeared earlier in his life. Richard’s autocratic grandmother has charged him with finding the thing and returning it. It’s been seen on a lovely young woman at a London social event, so Richard is dispatched to London to hunt it down.

Richard meets Isabel at a party, and lo and behold, the brooch is pinned to her dress. Isabel “borrowed” it from her grandmother, as the brooch has always fascinated her. Richard and Isabel are immediately intrigued by one another, but he manages to set the stage to steal the brooch.

Thus begins a cat-and-mouse game in which Isabel, with the help of a young servant who was a former pickpocket, steals the brooch back, only to lose it to Richard again, whereupon she steals it back, etc. A third party eventually steals the brooch. Meanwhile, Richard and Isabel fall in love. But she believes him to be penniless, so he’s not the man for her.

Richard is the more sympathetic of the two characters, because he isn’t interested in romance at first, just the brooch. And he isn’t really penniless, no matter what the cover blurb says, but he will have a pile of bills to pay in order to get the estate up to snuff when his grandfather dies. Isabel, with her gold-digger veneer, fares worse. There is little depth to her character. She involves herself in various escapades to retrieve the brooch, but underneath she comes across as just a pretty young woman who wants to live a cushy life and not worry about anything. I couldn’t admire her.

The escapades in which the brooch is stolen back and forth run the gamut from plausible to borderline silly. Most of them could not have happened except for contrived actions on the part of the characters. Isabel, for instance, leaves the brooch lying around in her bed chamber rather than put it back with her grandmother’s jewelry, making it easy for Richard to find. Richard, rather than secreting it away for safekeeping, carries it around with him, so it’s short work for a pickpocket to lift it. By the third time the thing changed hands, I was out of patience with the subplot.

Candice Hern writes so well that any holes in the plot are more irritants than fatal flaws. Richard in particular was a lot of fun. He’s drawn into a romance almost against his will, which is always an enjoyable setup. One wishes he’d found a better heroine. Nevertheless, Her Scandalous Affair is an entertaining read, and Ms. Hern’s many fans will be glad she’s returned to the bookshelves.

--Cathy Sova


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