Scandal in Venice

 
The Spanish Bride by Amanda McCabe
(Signet, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-20401-8
****
At the end of my review of Amanda McCabe’s debut novel, Scandal in Venice, I made a prediction about the subject of her next book. I suggested that the heroine’s brother, Peter Everdean, Earl of Clifton, would be the hero and although I didn’t state it outright, I had a pretty good idea who the heroine would be. Turns out I was half right. Peter is the hero, but the heroine was a big surprise.

We learned that Peter had married while serving is Spain and that his wife was a traitor who died. In the Prologue to The Spanish Bride, we see Carmen Montero and Peter wed. We also see the surprise French attach that decimates his unit. We watch as the French capture Carmen and see her escape. And we discover why Peter believes the woman he loves is both a traitor and dead. Carmen likewise is told that her husband has died.

Six years have passed. The war has been over for two years and La Condesa Carmen Pilar Maria de Santiago y Montero has come to London with her five year old daughter. Carmen has wealth, youth and grace. Her experiences with the partisans during the Napoleonic invasion have left her unsuited for the strict society of Spain, so she has wandered from city to city, always accepted into the highest levels of society because of her noble birth and fortune. But she has avoided London.

Carmen has come to England because she has been receiving blackmail letters which threaten to reveal something unsavory about her actions during the war. Since these letters were mailed in England, she has decided to ferret out who the villain is. The very night of her arrival she is invited to the Duchess of Dacey’s ball and decides to attend. She must go among the ton to find her enemy.

Peter has gradually recovered from the effects of the war. His wounds, his loss, and the belief that Carmen betrayed him have weighed heavily on his mind and his spirit. He has recovered, but he is not the man he once was. Still, he has decided it is time to think of the future and he is courting a most acceptable young woman, Lady Deidra. He had not planned to attend the Duchess’s ball, but his sister, Lady Elizabeth Hollingsworth demands his escort. He finds the ball incredibly dull but is somewhat intrigued to hear all the gossip about the famous condesa who is expected to attend. Then, he sees la condesa and immediately realizes that she is his wife.

Carmen seeks respite from the overly warm ballroom on a balcony, turns around, and there is Peter. Not surprisingly, she momentarily faints. When she regains her senses, she discovers that the man she loved - indeed still loves - believes that she was a traitor. She is stunned and hurt and perhaps would have fled, but Lady Elizabeth arrives.

Elizabeth has seen a portrait of Peter’s wife and immediately recognizes Carmen. She discounts the reports of her betrayal and immediately begins to plot to bring the two together.

This is a very well done reunion story. Both Peter and Carmen are stunned by this turn of events. They are understandably confused about their feelings and uncertain about their future. Carmen is a wonderful heroine, intelligent, brave and caring. Peter is a bit more problematic at first; he has nurtured his anger for six years, perhaps because anger was more bearable than grief. But McCabe wisely does not drag out the misunderstanding beyond reason. Then the two must work together to discover who is blackmailing Carmen.

McCabe is a welcome addition to the ranks of Regency authors. She creates well developed characters, both primary and secondary. She recreates the world of Regency society with a sure hand. She provides a sweet and moving romance. I heartily recommend The Spanish Bride.

--Jean Mason


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