Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-81850-7
Historical Romance, 2001
A Matter of Scandal is the conclusion of this author’s With This Ring trilogy. The other books, in chronological order, are Reforming a Rake and Meet Me at Midnight. And since the heroine of this one is the etiquette schoolteacher of the heroines in the other two books, I feel very afraid to read this book. I’m not in the mood to die of ditz overdose.
But what a pleasant surprise – Emma Grenville has a brain, and she isn’t a ditz with weird morals. She will probably be able to cross a busy highway with her life intact. The hero, Greydon Brakenridge, is quite a charming scoundrel too.
They meet when Greydon returns to the boring, rustic countryside to help his uncle manage the estates and get it out of debt. His suggestion? Triple the rents of all the tenants. Emma, who runs the local academy of etiquette and grooming, is not happy. She can’t afford the rent, for one.
She storms Uncle’s house and has Uncle, a rather weak-willed dolt, going “Ahh… okay, I won’t increase your rent.” Grey, however, won’t back down so easily. What’s that school all about except to teach women to trap men into unhappy marriages, anyway? Why not just shut it down?
Emma and Grey ends up betting with each other – if she can come up with a financial plan to pull the estate out of dun territory, she doesn’t have to pay the rent (and he will sponsor three girls into her school). If he can teach her students better than she, he gets his way and the rent will be increased.
Now all they have to do is win. And Emma just have to remain cool against Grey’s smooth seductive moves. No toughie.
Grey is a stereotypical misogynistic hero, and in the hands of a wrong author, he will be a nightmare. But Emma cheerfully punctures all his misguided, empty arguments. For instance, Emma points out that Grey on one hand insists that women who want marriages are nothing more than mercenary creatures, and on the other hand, he also presumes that independent, non-marriage minded women are no better than whores. “Which is which?” she asks, stumping Grey in his rant.
Likewise, Emma’s response to listening to Grey’s best friend telling Grey’s sad history with unfaithful, scheming women? Not “Oh, that poor man” but a charming little gem about how absurd it is for a man to judge all women from his narrow experience. Emma is a hoot, and I love to see how she keeps pulling the rug from under Grey’s feet.
Her no-nonsense don’t-give-me-that-BS-mister behavior brings out the best in Grey. He doesn’t see the light or change immediately, and his resistance of the inevitable only adds to the fun.
If I do have complains though, it’s the lack of sexual tension between Emma and Grey. I mean, sure, there are great banters and all, but there is no actual heat. Can we have some nice schoolteacher-punish-the-bad-boy-student thing, for example? After all, Grey’s a rake. What’s with all the boring missionary positioning? Let’s bring out the ruler and smack some bottom, baby!
Anyway, the delightful cast and the cute secondary characters make A Matter of Scandal the best of the three books in this trilogy and hence a very fitting conclusion.