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About the book:
Title: Secrets of a Scandalous Heiress
Series: The Matchmaker Trilogy #3
Author: Theresa Romain
Pubdate: January 6th, 2015
One good proposition deserves another ...
Heiress Augusta Meredith can’t help herself -- she stirs up gossip wherever she goes. A stranger to Bath society, she pretends to be a charming young widow, until sardonic, darkly handsome Joss Everett arrives from London and uncovers her charade.
Augusta persuades Joss to keep her secret in exchange for a secret of his own. Weaving their way through the treacherous pitfalls of a polite world only too eager to expose and condemn them, they begin to see that being true to themselves is not so bad ... as long as they’re true to each other…
Historical romance author Theresa Romain pursued an impractical education that allowed her to read everything she could get her hands on. She then worked for universities and libraries, where she got to read even more. Eventually she started writing, too. She lives with her family in the Midwest.
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She tilted her head, setting the loose curl free again. “Are you doing what you wish?”
Doing what he wished? No, of course he wasn’t.
Right now he wished he could make her smile as she had when giving away her gloves. He wished he could dispense with his conscience and plead for her to take him as a lover. He wished he could pluck the pins from her sunset hair and send it tumbling over her naked skin, wished he could stop kissing her only to make her cry out in pleasure.
But always, in the face of a wish, came prosaic reality. A scarred wooden table, a plate of mutton and potatoes, a wedge of cheese. An adequate fire and a roof over one’s head. Such a reality was perfectly acceptable, even if it didn’t hold the luster of a gemlike fantasy.
“I try to wish,” he said in a calm voice, “for what I know I might attain. For respectable employment for a reasonable wage. For a reasonable employer.”
This brought a faint smile to her features, but the expression fell away in another instant. “That seems a very small dream.”
“What on earth do you mean by that? It’s a very suitable dream.”
“But it’s not really a dream, is it? It’s what you have now, just shuffled about a bit.”
Again, he folded his arms. She lifted her hands, placating. “As you say, it’s perfectly suitable. And if you insist that it’s exactly what you want, then I suppose it is a dream, after all.”
Of course it wasn’t a dream. It was good sense. It was practicality. “I don’t know what else I ought to wish for. This is my life. I am a man of business for a nobleman.” Remembering Chatfield’s words, he added, “I am not in bodily danger, nor in mortal peril. It could be far worse.”
“It could be. But if you want it to be better ...”
“Not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to buy happiness.”
“No one is fortunate enough for that.” She turned over her fork and scratched the tines into the surface of the table. “That’s not what I meant. I know happiness can’t be bought, or I would have bought it.”
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After having read almost all of Theresa Romain's books (I haven't read Season for Desire), I've come to appreciate Theresa Romain's wonderful sense of humour -- her novels are fun to read, and she's really able to imagine smart-funny moments between her characters, revealing sharp minds and clever wits. Which brings me to the second thing I love about Romain's books: she writes her characters very well: they are multi-faceted and many-layered -- granted some facets are chipped and/or cracked, and some layers are wrinkly and/or frayed, but that is all part of the charm of the world she makes.
In Secrets of a Scandalous Heiress, Augusta is a woman who has it all: she's the sole heiress to her family's beauty business and is about to take control over her own fortune (both in the financial sense and the future-destiny sense), but Augusta lacks the two things she longs for the most: her parents and love. She's in Bath with her friend, Lady Tallant -- both of them seeking to recover from events that have left them both a bit bruised and hurting.
There are three things to pay attention to when reading Theresa Romain's latest novel:
1. The scandalous reason why Augusta Meredith, heiress to Meredith Beauty, is in Bath masquerading as a widow
2. The blackmail plot that Joss Everett is trying to solve
3. The dynamic between Augusta, wealthy heiress whose fortune came from trade, and Joss, blue-blood, albeit half-blood who is employed by his cousin
"I cannot allow anyone to have that sort of control over me. Once I trusted a man too much, and he abandoned me. This time, I shall do the choosing. All I require is a lover. I will take him, then leave him, when I see fit."
- loc 190
At the beginning of the story, we get the impression that Augusta pretending to be the widowed Mrs. Flowers is a whim, but, as the story unfolds, we discover the reason why -- and it is heartbreaking. Augusta believes that taking control of her romantic life, by seeking a lover -- on her own terms -- is going to help solve her problems. But, she never realised how difficult it was to find one -- until she bumps into Joss Everett.
Joss Everett is a complex character: he's very, very closely connected to a baronetcy, but he has always walked on the peripheries of society because of his Hindu blood and color. The curious thing about Joss is that he has accepted his role as his cousin's sidekick (in the guise of his man of business). His cousin, Lord Sutcliffe, does not respect him or value him -- and Joss has allowed this treatment to continue. We see into Joss's thoughts and we know he hates how his cousin treats him, but we also see that he believes the glass ceiling is set very low for him (and that he can't break through it) -- case in point: even his greatest dream is truly just a modest one.
"I try to wish," he said in a calm voice, "for what I know I might attain. For respectable employment for a reasonable wage. For a reasonable employer."
- loc 1895
There is a blackmail plot in the story, which involves Lord Sutcliffe and a pregnant maid, but there's surprisingly very little action and chase -- because the focus of the story is the developing relationship between Augusta and Joss. There's a lot of talking, but it is talk that one needs to pay attention to carefully, because there's so, so much revealed in their conversations. It's wonderful to see how their feelings evolve through their dialogue. At the onset, it's all careful flirtation and humour, and then it becomes deeper and more sincere, until, finally, real intimacy and honesty.
"You would do, Mr. Everett."
He froze halfway to a stand, eyes fixed on Augusta's gloved hand on his sleeve. "I would do?" Dropping into his chair again, he added, "I presume you mean as a lover?"
He lifted his chin, looking down his high-bridged nose at her. "Because I am convenient? Or because I am entirely unworthy of marriage?"
His tone froze her fingers, and she withdrew her hand to her lap. "Because" -- she raised her own chin -- "you bathe regularly and are not bad looking. As I mentioned previously."
"I may swoon."
- loc 202 (their first encounter in Bath)
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"But if it's all right with you, I would like to stay here for a short while and be Augusta."
"Were you concerned that you might become someone else?"
"Yes. Or -- maybe concerned that I would not. I'm not sure how to tell." She lifted her head, then traced an ancient scar in the wood of the desk. "Every caller for Mrs. Flowers requires me to lie more and say less. I can't say anything that's true of my real self; I have to be so careful. And so I wind up saying nothing and smiling like a doll."
Loss is one of the central themes in this story (the other is finding a sense of belonging), and Romain really explores this through her supporting characters, Lady Tallant and Lord Chatfield (I'd love to read more about these two) -- Lady Tallant is in an amazingly loving relationship and has given birth to an heir and a spare, but her recent miscarriage of a daughter has proved devastating. She is in Bath trying to regain herself. Lord Chatfield is a marquess and wields incredible power in the form of the knowledge and information he possesses, but he lost his leg when he was a younger man. As I mentioned earlier, Romain's characters are perfectly imperfect, and each one exists for a reason.
Everyone had something grieve, did they not? A leg, a parent, an inconstant lover. There was always something more that could be lost.
Which meant there was always something for which to be grateful.
- loc 1542
We can see the characters go through the stages of grief, and the author is respectful of the time each one needs to deal with their own losses (the most heartbreaking is, perhaps, Lady Tallant's.) -- it is very encouraging to see each one come to terms with it at the end of the story.
Secrets of a Scandalous Heiress is a great story to conclude Theresa Romain's The Matchmaker Trilogy. Now to find time to read Season for Desire, so I can finally say that I've read all of Romain's books. ^_^
Disclosure: I received this review copy via Netgalley for this event. Thank you to Theresa Romain and to Sourcebooks Casablanca for the opportunity. Yes, this is an honest review.
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To celebrate the release of Secrets of a Scandalous Heiress, Sourcebooks Casablanca is giving away five (5) copies of It Takes Two to Tangle (book 1 in the trilogy).
Rafflecoptor Link: a Rafflecopter giveaway