|Many romances set in early 1800's England deal with couples who have to marry because of the appearance of scandal. In Patricia Frances Rowell's A Scandalous Situation, the scandal is much more serious and heartbreaking.
Rob Armstrong, Lord Duncan, stops to help a young woman whose horse and gig have turned over under a small avalanche of snow on a mountain road. He is quite surprised when she holds him at gunpoint before accepting help. When a more serious snow slide completely blocks the road back to her home, she is reluctant to accept his offer of shelter at his castle, even though a new snowstorm has started.
Iantha Kethley has spent the last six years of her life maintaining tight control over her emotions. When she was eighteen, the coach she was riding in was ambushed, her nurse was killed, the driver and guards were either incapacitated or killed, and she was gang raped by a group of masked men. She does not like to be touched and is very leery of most men. No one was ever caught despite the searches her family ordered from the Bow Street Runners. In fact, since the rape, she has received a number of anonymous notes taunting her about the incident.
Rob has recently returned from ten years in India. He is somewhat unconventional for a member of the ton because he spent the years in India developing trade to bolster the family finances. He was married to an Indian woman, but lost both his wife and daughter to illness a few years before returning to England. He is sensitive enough to realize that the beautiful Iantha is very uncomfortable in his household of men and does everything he can to make her feel comfortable. He realizes that for propriety's sake, he will have to offer marriage to her as soon as it is safe to escort her to her family's home.
The building of the relationship between Rob and Iantha is skillfully and beautifully handled. Even before he knows the horrifying source of her reticence, he is careful with her, using humor and gentleness to try to reach her. His internal dialog shows that he has doubts about getting through to her so that they can have a good marriage, but he does not back down because of his honor system and because he likes the intelligence and hints of passion her sees in her. Iantha has used sheer will to control her emotions for so long. Rob is the first man she has even considered trying to allow through her carefully built walls. The process is realistic because it doesn't happen all at once. She takes one step forward, then two steps back many times. Watching her gather her strength and courage was very empowering.
Once Rob discovers that Iantha is still receiving the frightening notes, he vows to find the scoundrels who plague her. The only concern I had about this book was that there were too many possible villains, making it a bit difficult to keep them all straight. I did like that Iantha did not foolishly put herself in dangerous situations, but when one occurred, she fought as hard to save Rob as he fought to save her.
A Scandalous Situation starts with a horrible circumstance and finishes with two deserving people who are stronger for the journey. The action and the thoughtful moments of discovery move the tale along at a nice pace. I've found myself going back to read favorite passages, so I'll keep this one on my bookshelf.
--B. Kathy Leitle