Prelude to a Scandal

Prelude to a ScandalBy Delilah Marvelle

Publisher: HQN
Publication Date: January 1, 2011
Genre: Historical Romance
Source: Netgalley

Lady Justine is willing to trade her good name, her reputation and her place in London’s gossip-hungry ton to secure her father’s release from prison. But when the notorious Duke of Bradford counters her offer with a proposal of marriage, the stakes grow higher still. For while the smoldering lord is famous for his conquests, the man is oblivious to both her devotion and her charms. And Justine is soon afraid she has wagered all for naught….

Goodreads Summary

In the preface to the story, Marvelle offers the supposition that some of the so-called rakes of the Regency period may have actually been undiagnosed sex addicts.  Obviously those types of addictions would hardly have been addressed at the time and it would be easy to simply excuse the resulting behavior, even admiring a man who could easily jump from lover to lover.  Frankly from the sort of doom and gloom clinical examination of the awful reasons these men are forced to seek out women to use for mindless pleasure, I expected something along the lines of a bodice ripper, but was pleased that this turned out to be something midway between a character study of a man tormented by his unwanted addiction and a rather sweet, if frustrating, love story.

Lady Justine Palmer is in dire need of assistance from the notorious Duke of Bradford.  Fresh from his studies of animals’ sexual habits in South Africa, her father has been out promoting his book claiming that same sex attraction is perfectly natural and as a result, has gotten himself tossed in Marshalsea Prison.  Assured that Bradford has the means to get her father released, Justine offers him the one thing the confirmed bachelor and rake thinks he might accept in return: her hand in marriage.  To her amazement, he does.

Bradford’s been harboring a secret for six long months; he wants Justine and has sworn to change his ways to be the kind of man who can have her.  Terrified that he’ll break his vow and use other women for sex, he’s dismissed all of his female servants and has become all but a prisoner in his own home to avoid temptation.  When he finally has Justine though, he fears he’s waited too long and will overwhelm her, so he leaves her alone and their marriage is a series of both misunderstandings and frustratingly sweet and occasionally tender moments.  Frustrating because Justine keeps shoving him out of her bedroom even when he does what she asks, tender because sometimes she’s actually nice to him before she shoves him out of her bedroom.

I haven’t read any of Ms. Marvelle’s other books so while I understand she has another series out there, I can’t compare this to that.  I liked the tone of this; there were some funny moments, some that had an ick factor, some that stretched the imagination and I didn’t always like one character or another, but I never felt like putting the book down and I never felt like this was less than a really interesting read.

To a great degree, I sympathized and liked Radcliffe more than Justine.  Even though he wasn’t always kind or truthful and some of his behavior was offensive, he was a man who was trying to do the right thing.  He may not have been able to say he loved Justine, but he knew it from the beginning and knowing he was in for a world of hurt from doing what Justine wanted, he did it anyway.  He asked little of her, got less, and still stood by her.  That he was forced into a position of responsibility earlier than he was ready and his stress valve was sex was quite plausible.

For all of her worldliness from time spent studying animal mating in South Africa with her parents, Justine was awfully priggish.  At the beginning of each chapter was a quote from the book, How to Avoid a Scandal, and she applied most of its lessons to her marriage.  From the beginning, she set out to change Radcliffe, and considering his acknowledged problem, it was appropriate, but she was harsh.  He was her husband and she treated him like a child.  She thawed towards him later and the results were affectionate and passionate (oddly indistinct, considering there was some ardent foreplay).  I know that her heart seemed to be in the right place when it came to helping Radcliffe and there were moments when she wanted him in her bed and he refused her, but she seemed to take too many “moments” and turned them into lessons.

The ending was well done and thought out, I think.  I did wonder about how sexual addiction is recovered from, to what degree is it ever really gone and how Radcliffe really could ever have told whether that was the cause for his behavior or if it was something else.  It would be interesting if the author followed up with other books in the same vein.

My Rating: B+

Barbara

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