The Wedding Gamble

A Scandalous Proposal by Julia Justiss
(Harl. Historical #532, 4.99, R) ISBN 0-373-29132-9
A Scandalous Proposal contains many of the fine elements of Julia Justissí first book, The Wedding Gamble, but a couple of annoying elements toward the end kept me from fully recommending it.

Emily Spenser is the widow of an army officer. The two of them had married against the wishes of both families and were both disowned. After struggling to survive as a portrait painter in Europe for several years, Emily has finally returned to England and opened a millinery shop. She has kept her true identity quiet because she fears her father-in-law will try to take her young son from her.

Evan Mansfield, Earl of Cheverly, meets Emily when he stops at her shop to pick up a hat for his mother. He is stunned by her beauty and quiet charm. After leaving the shop, her realizes that he did not pay her. When he returns after the shop is supposed to be closed, he walks in on her landlord's henchman roughing her up and demanding protection money or her favors. He stops the scoundrel and quickly moves to protect her.

Emily does not want to accept his help because she expects Evan to want her in return payment. He assures her that he expects no payment, but does let her know that he is very interested in her. She is attracted to him and decides that rather than worry about when he will put pressure on her, she will accept his attentions and get through them. Instead of quickly tiring of her, Evan and Emily develop a passionate and caring relationship.

Evan, however, has a very strong sense of family and loyalty to his friends. His best friend, Richard, is returned to England, mortally wounded in the war. As he is dying, Richard gets Evan to promise that he will marry Andrea, Richard's sister. Andrea and Evan have been more like sister and brother for years. Despite her beauty and charm, Andrea in not very self-confident. She has a limp, the result of an accident, and she shies away from most social settings. Evan knows he can't let her down or forget his promise to his friend.

Ms. Justiss knows how to write passion. The love scenes between Emily and Evan are wonderful. She also knows how to create two characters of honor who struggle valiantly to do what is right despite their deep love for each other. The constrictions placed on them are not just that of Evan's promise, but also the dictates of English society in the early 1800s. Emily is a shopkeeper. If Evan would break with tradition and marry her, he could ruin his sister's and mother's place in society. Several of the parting scenes between Evan and Emily are heartbreaking.

Toward the end of A Scandalous Proposal several parts felt as if they have been added to stretch out the story. Evan is involved with the military in a civilian role by overseeing the delivery of supplies and arms to the troops. When he goes to the continent to personally deal with a problem, he is attacked. The description of that incident is almost surreal and confusing. The results of this attack are also used at the end of the story to add yet another obstacle to the relationship. While the rest of the obstacles they face made sense, this last one was excessive. Resolving the story before this would have made a much more satisfying ending.

In both of Ms. Justiss' books, she creates another worthy man who also loves the heroine. In The Wedding Gamble, it was SinJin. In this book, it is Brent. He is a good friend of Evan's who also falls in love with Emily and is willing to marry her after Evan's engagement is announced. I would love to see each of these good guys get stories of their own.

While not as strong as her first effort, A Scandalous Proposal is worth reading and shows again Julia Justiss' writing skills.

--B. Kathy Leitle

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