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"Mrs" Elise Fountain was desperate when she applied for the position no one else wanted. Having lost her position at Miss Endicott's School, she bravely took on Lord Lavay's disorganized household and even more bravely took on the very fierce Lord Lavay himself.
Things are not always what they seem, and Elise quickly realizes that there's more to Lord Lavay's story. A prince of the French Royal House of Bourbon, Lavay is in Pennyroyal Green secretly recuperating from his injuries. Head bloody but unbowed*, Philippe Lavay hopes to reclaim his family's home and former glory -- in the meantime, he hides his pain and his straitened finances as he struggles to provide funds for his scattered family.
I have to say Julie Anne Long surprised me with this story, because there's just so much unexpected pleasure to be found in reading about the daily life of Lavay's household, under Elise's very firm leadership -- and even more pleasure reading about the tension building up between our hero and heroine. There's more to the obstacle that prevents Elise and Lavay from acting on their attraction: yes, there is the class difference, and the matter of being the "hired help" -- but there's also Elise's previous experience, that left her pregnant, and disowned. She's living with the consequences of her past choices, and, yet, she cannot deny the pull between herself and Lavay -- and, I thought it was so, so admirable to read about a woman who was able to express her desires so clearly.
"Why make me a woman, why make him a man, why make him charming, why make it such a pleasure to touch him, why must it feel as though I'm touching flame, why must I be tempted like this? ..."
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The author makes reference to Aesop's The Lion and the Mouse, and there's also a bit of Beauty and the Beast in Lavay and Elise's story. It's clear that the author wishes to emphasize the value of kindness and empathy. Elise does a wondrous job of transforming Lavay's household. The scenes between Elise and Dolly (and the other members of the staff) were very well done. I loved the stand-off between Dolly and Elise and the contrast between how each one viewed their lot in life. (The HGTV fan in me thrilled at reading about the house's makeover. ^_^) But, what was more special was how Lavay was similarly transformed by Elise's presence. From a solitary man who kept to himself, and who expressed nothing but anger and regret and disappointment, Lavay becomes a man with renewed vision.
The story is about the idea of "home" and where it is. Lavay hopes to reclaim his home in France, which is now being sold by its owner. He doesn't have a lot of time and he has two ways to make money: take on another mission for the Crown, or to marry. Because of his injuries, Lavay really cannot consider the first option. Elise was disowned by her parents when she became pregnant, and she is now being evicted from Miss Endicott's School, which has served as her home for the last six years.
"Lord Lavay ... your last home ..."
"Was on a ship," he said impatiently. In other words, the way he said and did everything. "I thought that was clear."
"... and ... and your home before that ..."
There was a pause. Long enough to be interesting.
"France," he said flatly, at last. He made it sound as if France were a lover who had betrayed him, so he'd been forced to kill her, but he loved her still. "I had homes in Paris, Provence, Versailles. My sister is in Paris presently. My estate ... my home is in Provence."
Had. It was a painful verb. She'd once had a home she'd been welcome in, a job she'd enjoyed, a lover she'd thought she could trust. She sympathised with his use of the past tense.
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It slowly dawns on our hero and heroine that home isn't really a matter of where, but with whom -- but, this becomes a bittersweet realisation for them. Philippe Lavay is a lord, and Elise is his housekeeper. There is such a discrepancy in their social status. Which leads me to another point that I loved about this story: there wasn't a lot of sitting around and thinking about and wondering about love: Is this love? Could this be love? etc, etc. Instead, this was a story about action and sacrifice. Elise gave up something valuable in order to get the livery for James and Ramsey, and Lavay had almost given up his life in order to support his sister and the rest of their family. In this romance, actions really did speak louder than words.
When something's begins with a scandal, the end results are often not good, but Lavay and Elise have proven that something positive and life-changing can come from something so potentially life-crushing.
It Started with a Scandal is Book 11 in Julie Anne Long's Pennyroyal Green series. It will be released on March 31, 2015. To find out more about Julie Anne Long and her books, click below:
Disclosure: I received this ARC through Edelweiss. Thank you to Julie Anne Long and to Avon for the opportunity. Yes, this is an honest review.
*Invictus by William Ernest Henley