Scandal and the Duchess is a fabulous romance novel title. Five stars for that. All gold.
I continue to lovehate Jennifer Ashley, but the fact that I have read everything in her Mackenzie series would seem to indicate that she is my guilty pleasure. Despite frequently overwrought plotting, but with sincere emotional connections and excellent smolder, I just keep reading her books, and in a couple of cases re-reading them. Maybe I enjoy her brand of tortured heroes more than I like to admit. Scandal and the Duchess is restrained from that perspective and a mostly gentle romp with a moustache twirling villain thrown in.
Rose, Dowager Duchess of Southdown, is the zaftig and scandalous second wife of the erstwhile Duke. The new His Grace has successfully blocked any knowledge of his father’s will and Rose has been left dependent on her former coachman’s hospitality. As her husband, whom she genuinely cared for, died early in their marriage, she has become a figure of public speculation. Obviously, she is a Victorian sex bomb whose appetites overwhelmed the old guy, though he did die happy. One night, while out and about being pursued by scandal mongers, she is literally run into by Captain Steven Sinclair. Three sheets to the wind, he still knows a good thing when he lands on it. Rose misunderstands his situation and offers a place to crash and in the morning, sober and deliciously disheveled, he suggests a false engagement to get the reporters off her back.
Steven and Rose embark on an “engagement” that, it is a romance novella after all, quickly becomes a genuine love match. It seems Rose’s husband liked puzzles and left her an inheritance if only she and Steven can figure out where and what it is. It’s an efficient McGuffin that does the job nicely. They gad about looking for clues and being sexually attracted to each other. Steven is a Mackenzie in-law, so characters from previous books in the series pop up, in particular the ones from her most popular novels. They have a cursory participation based mostly on being in the same room as the hero and heroine.
Scandal and the Duchess was light and pleasant-ish. There was less drang and virtually no sturm which is quite a change for Ashley. The novella felt perfunctory and yet I’ll still read the next one. Ashley has a formula that works well (read: profitably) for her and is an incredibly prolific author. She currently produces at least three different series under two different pseudonyms. The Mackenzie series alone has seven novels and three novellas published since 2009, with one more of each planned into 2015. She keeps pumping them out and I keep reading them, thus drowning out my clearly disingenuous protestations of ambivalence towards her work. It’s the sincere, emotional and romantic moments. I live in hope for them every time.