Avon Impulse, $3.99, ISBN 978-0-06-241908-8
Historical Romance, 2015
All’s Fair in Love and Scandal is part of the author’s Scandalous series – you know, the books with Scandal in their titles – but it can stand alone very well as it has a self-contained plot. It does make references to the salacious 50 Ways to Sin serial, but the plots of previous books don’t figure in here.
Douglas Bennett is the classic happy lad in town. He is carefree, he knows he has the looks and the body to go with the deep pockets, so people adore him as much as he adores his life at the moment. Wine, women, and song – what else could be better? Okay, ever since his best buddy Tristan got married, gamboling around town is not as much fun as it used to be. Would accepting a wager to dance with the cool and aloft widow Madeline Wilde do the trick? She’s really hot. The fact that she rejects him all the while flirting with him back only piques his interest. When his buddy tells him that there are rumors floating around that Madeline is Lady Constance, the author of 50 Ways to Sin, and he dares Douglas to find proof that this is indeed the case, Douglas has to accept the wager. Anything to get close to the woman who has already gotten under his skin from the very moment they meet! On her part, Madeline does have a secret, although whether or not she is Lady Constance… well, that’s for Douglas and the reader to find out.
When it comes to Caroline Linden, she is one of the very few authors whose novellas work for me for the most part. This is because the author can really excel when it comes to exploring her characters’ chemistry and emotions, and she tends to focus on this aspect when it comes to her novellas. This one is no different – both Douglas and Madeline are fun characters, and while Douglas is light on angst, when that guy falls in love, he makes it seem like the sweetest thing ever. Really, this guy really goes the extra mile to show the world – and the heroine – that he’s a hopeless goner and I am so, so amused. He’s sweet.
Madeline has some angst – her father was a gambler who made her mother’s life miserable, and she is closer to the man who was her mother’s lover during her marriage than to her own father. Her worry is that she is being just like her mother, falling for a charming gambler whose inability to mellow or settle down and be a family man would make her miserable in the end. At the same time, Madeline has enough self-awareness and brainpower to think for herself and make decisions without going all dim-dumb on me. She doesn’t generalize, resort to weird hyperbole about men in general, or play the tedious “I’ll shag him but I will never marry him because he never says the L word!” game. I also love how, when she discovers Douglas’s bet on finding out who Lady Constance is, she has the perspective to find the whole thing silly and funny. No irrational theatrics or hysterical tears, and I adore this darling for that.
The chemistry is great, but the whole boiling of their desire to 212°F is simply fabulous. The love scene isn’t particularly erotic or explicit, but the whole sexual tension build up raises the whole thing to a whole new “parental advisory: this baby burns” level. The pay off is great too, because it’s a great ball of fun, with both characters showing how love can make them such cute silly fools even as they still manage to look at the whole thing in a sensible way and laugh.
Really, All’s Fair in Love and Scandal is a novella that may not have much conflict or drama, but it has a fun romance that works on all levels. When I reach the last page, not much time has passed, but I feel like I’ve been laughing and sighing at these two adorable dingbats for so much longer.