The Cad by Edith Layton
(Harper, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-09-108706-8
The very best romance novels are almost like an adrenaline rush: there's the excitement of realizing that you are hooked, the intense focus that comes with being totally engrossed, and the sweet, oh-so-satisfied letdown when the last page is turned.

The Cad gave me all of this and more. Christmas came early this year, and it was in the form of a scarred heroine, a rake who down deep believes that he's a lousy lover, a wild ending that took me completely by surprise, and some of the most tender love scenes I've ever enjoyed. This one goes straight to the keeper shelf.

Bridget Cooke is acting as a companion to her spoiled cousin Cecily, one of several such posts she's held since the death of her father seven years earlier. It's not a bad job; she gets to attend some of London's social events, as long as she's willing to stay in the background and let her relatives order her around and insult her unthinkingly. Not a problem. Bridget has a scar on her face, the result of a dog bite as a child, and she truly believes no man would ever be interested in her. To her, careless insults are mere truth.

Then one night, while attending a ball with Cecily, quiet Bridget is astonished to draw the attention of Ewen, Viscount Sinclair. He approaches her in an entryway and offers to make her his mistress. Bridget is outraged and tells him off, laced with several acid observations on the type of men who approach physically-imperfect women. Ewen isn't deterred. Rather, he's fascinated by this lovely young woman who makes such an issue of a meaningless two-inch mark. There's something here he never expected to find, and now that he has, he's not letting it go. He'll try again.

And try again he does, in a lovely and surprising fashion that left me stunned and delighted. Bridget, while intrigued by this handsome and intelligent man, is firm in her resolve to keep her reputation intact. No carte blanche for her. By this time, Ewen is too far gone to care. Instead of a mistress, will she be his wife? Bridget hesitates. The viscount's attentions have enraged her aunt and cousin, who hoped to catch the wealthy Ewen for Cecily. Her aunt delivers an ultimatum, and Bridget delivers herself into Ewen's arms. They are wed.

This is not the happily-ever-after point, however. Ewen finds himself more and more ensnared by Bridget, but unable to believe he's actually falling in love. Bridget gradually must grow to trust Ewen; her faith in him will be tested to the utmost. Ewen's past holds a secret he's terrified to tell Bridget. When it all came to light, it's not what this reader expected.

I adored Ewen. Kind, amorous, intelligent, completely and totally devoted to his lovely Bridget, he's secretly unsure that he can hold her. I found it absolutely endearing that he doesn't see her scar. She's simply beautiful Bridget, everything he's wanted and didn't think he needed.

Bridget was equally engaging. Living with an imperfect face in a society that prizes physical perfection has made her strong, people-smart, and a bit world-weary. She's such a strong and lively character that after a while, readers will forget about her scar just as Ewen does. Layton accomplishes this with dialogue that continually deepens our understanding of these two lovers.

And the sexual tension between these two is strong right from the start. Ewen's determination to show Bridget that her scar is immaterial, and Bridget's longing for this handsome, humorous man, combine to produce an underlayment of desire that gently permeates the story.

The Cad is a wonderful story, plain and simple. This is one cad you'll take straight to your heart.

--Cathy Sova

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