Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-267605-4
Historical Romance, 2019
Lorraine Health’s The Scoundrel in Her Bed on paper should be hitting all the high notes with me. It has a heroine doing some action heroine vigilante thing in a rare competent manner – no contrived damsel in distress moments here – and plenty of family melodrama to rival a Bollywood movie classic. However, the story becomes increasingly less interesting as I turn the page.
Let’s get with the plot first. Lavinia Kent plays a minor role in When a Duke Loves a Woman – she’s the woman who left the hero of that story standing at the altar and went MIA. Here, she gets her story. While from a blue-blooded family, she nowadays takes to the streets to help the downtrodden kids of the streets in the slums of London. She can take care of herself, thankfully, so this isn’t some case of some idiotic ninny running wild and needing rescue. She does what she does because, once upon a time, she loved a boy from the wrong side of the streets, was dumped by him, and had the child that resulted for their boinking taken away by her mother without her knowing whether the child is still alive today. She doesn’t even know whether the child is a boy or girl. To this day, she is determined to give other children in need of love and protection what she couldn’t give her own child.
One of her sojourns reunites her with the boy who dumped her – Finn Trewlove. He was the wrong type for her because he is the bastard of some nobleman, and he’s now a hot grown-up dude described to be virile and what not. So what now?
Of course, there was no dumping back then. If you guess that her family got in the way, just like in so many stories of this type, you’re right. To be fair to these two, what her family did to them was pure Bollywood movie parents-style villainy, so I can easily see why these two eventually think the worst of the other person. However, now that they are both adults, or in Finn’s case, more adult-er if there’s such a word, the story quickly stumbles when it becomes apparent that the author doesn’t know what to do with them without being forced to end the story before the word count is met. There is really nothing to stop these two from just hooking up again, once the truth is out and they decide to work together as partners in playing vigilante in the streets, and hence, the author making these two meander around with contrived excuses to prolong their will-they-or-won’t-they dance kills a lot of the momentum she has built up.
The first half or so of the book dances from the present to the past, and while the flashback moments will ultimately lead to a predictable denouement, I find these scenes easily the most gripping part of the story. The author can steamroller her readers’ emotions on a good day, and here, she effortlessly reels me into this melodramatic yet poignant story of two lonely people connecting despite the disparity in their social status. The author also nicely avoids resorting to the whole “rich people are all assholes, poor people are all saints” stereotyping here, as Finn’s motley family isn’t all sweetness and sunshine either. Therefore, while the journey of the flashback arc is a predictable there, there are enough twists and turns along the way to keep things interesting.
The second half or so of the story focuses on the present, and that’s easily the least interesting part of the story. As I’ve mentioned, their present day conflict feels trivial compared to the angst and heartbreak of their first go at romance. Lavinia faces zero repercussions from dumping the hero of the previous story, she has found her ex and learned that all is good now as he isn’t that villain she once thought he was. Finn has even less to worry about – so he gets his ex back, and she’s still hot and her love was true back then, so what a relief. So… what else is there? Obviously, these two have some mental baggage to overcome, especially when it comes to their child, but this is handled in the least interesting manner possible: she hands over everything to her hero and heroine so that they can live their lives in pure happy sunshine like every generic couple in a romance novel set in 19th century England. A most insulting example is the author cheerfully undoing a singularly shocking revelation waiting for the hero and the heroine at the end of their search for answers, just so that I can get a ridiculously cheesy love scene and a sickeningly saccharine and conventional epilogue. Everyone is happy, happy, happy now – how depressing.
If only the author had capitalized on that shocking note and allow her characters to retain some damage by the happy ending, really. The Scoundrel in Her Bed should have pulled an All Through the Night for the characters’ journey end, which will allow them to stay true to character instead of forcing them into something that they aren’t.
At any rate, this one has its moments, but ultimately, the author’s efforts to ensure that this story forcefully conforms to a formulaic and upbeat mold eventually does itself in. I like this one, I’m glad I read it, but boy, I’m also disappointed by a number of choices made by the author.