Her Secret Affair

Once Upon a Scandal

Too Wicked to Love

Seduced by a Scoundrel
by Barbara Dawson Smith
(St. Martins, $6.50, R) ISBN 0-312-97272-5
Evaluating Seducing a Scoundrel proves the value of my put down/pick up test. While I didnít mind picking it up to read, I found myself too easily distracted by other things. For me a 4 heart book is one that I donít want to put down no matter what. (A 5 heart is one that I refuse to put down no matter what.) While Barbara Dawson Smithís Regency historical has an interesting plot and is a perfectly acceptable romance, it lacked that certain something that keeps me turning the pages.

This is a tale of love and revenge. Drake Wilder wants revenge against the Marquess of Hailstock, the father who turned his ten-year-old bastard son away after his mother died. In the intervening twenty years, Drake has made his fortune and is now the owner of Londonís most popular gaming club. But he remains determined to exact vengeance.

Lady Alicia Pemberton becomes a means to harm the marquess. Hailstock is courting the daughter of his old friend and Drake determines to thwart his suit. When Aliciaís brother loses £20,000 at Wilderís, Alicia tries to bargain with the gamester. But the only repayment that Drake will accept is Aliciaís hand in marriage.

Alicia has fallen far since her days as a sought after debutante. After her father died and left the family almost penniless, she found herself in charge of a young brother and a mother who has lost complete touch with reality. Alicia will not marry Hailstock because he wants to put her mother in an asylum. When Drake agrees to allow her mother to live with them and to accept a chaste marriage, a desperate Alicia says she will wed him.

Drake has agreed not to force Alicia to have marital relations, but he reserves the right to try to seduce her. And seduce her he does. Drake discovers that behind Aliciaís prim and proper exterior there is a woman of passion. Alicia finds that her husband is a man of paradoxes. On the one hand, he makes his living by taking advantage of human weakness. On the other hand, he is a benevolent employer who hires those who would be unable to find work elsewhere -- the deaf, the halt, the lame. He treats her befuddled mother with warmth, helps her brother get back on his feet, is kind to children, but he always points to his selfish motives. Who is the real Drake Wilder?

Much of the rest of the book is devoted to discovering who Drake Wilder really is. I must admit I saw this coming from the outset, but Smith handled the uncovering of the dark deeds of the past quite effectively.

When a book with an interesting plot falls short, I can only conclude that the problem lies with the characters and with the relationship between the hero and the heroine. Drakeís and Aliciaís interactions outside the bedroom didnít suggest to me a growing intimacy. The love scenes are torrid, but lust not love seems to be the primary motivation for the charactersí actions. Alicia is, if anything, too easily seduced.

Actually, I was more intrigued by the secondary romance between Sarah, the widowed Duchess of Featherstone and Drakeís half-brother James. I wanted to see more about how they fall in love.

Seduced by a Scoundrel lacks that extra something that lifts a book above the crowd. Smithís story somehow doesnít live up to its potential. I didnít mind reading it, but I canít recommend it unreservedly. If you find the plot interesting and you like torrid love scenes, you may enjoy Seduced by a Scoundrel more than I did.

--Jean Mason

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