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Will Repton is a well-known plant hunter, who has recently returned home from Tibet. All of England has proclaimed him a hero, for being the lone survivor of a massacre -- the accolade has allowed Will entry into society, but all he wants to do is return to Tibet, to confront his nightmares. Will is a seasoned traveler and planner, and he has already:
1. mapped out his trip back to Tibet
2. and planned for all contingencies.
He is determined to make things right by the people he had left behind. But Will does not count on meeting Charlotte Baker, the most beautiful and most intriguing woman Will has ever met in his entire life. While Will is determined to keep his attraction (and lust) under control, Charlotte is intent in her pursuit of Will -- if not for love, then for friendship.
The book begins a bit slowly, with the author establishing the characters and backstories -- it's very interesting to note that, it is Will, with his demons and nightmares, who has the simpler and less complicated past. Charlotte Baker has led quite an interesting life, for someone who has never left England. When she was 8 years old, her sister married an earl, and Charlotte's circumstances were instantly elevated. She has a substantial dowry and a lady's education -- but her brother's very public trial has speckled her reputation. Despite this, she is still very highly-sought after -- but she is in a curious position: not a lady, but not a plain miss either. She has a number of suitors, and it is to Charlotte's credit that she isn't dazzled by their titles or their flattery. In fact, Charlotte has a series of tests that she secretly administers to her suitors, and it has allowed her to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Charlotte's heart sank further as her brother strode into the room. Wally was a secret husband test all her own. And the most important.
... This cool treatment was hardly unusual. Wally was inured to the unease of men and their insults.
But she was not. In the silence, her heart hardened in an all too familiar way. No gentlemen passed this test.
- loc 373
So far, only one suitor has passed most of the tests: Viscount Spencer, but, despite being the perfect suitor, Charlotte couldn't quite convince herself to accept the Viscount's proposal. It all finally made sense to Charlotte when Will Repton entered the picture. Will isn't really husband material -- and Will knows this. And he tries to convince Charlotte of this. But there's a connection between the two of them that is undeniable.
There is a hyper-awareness of societal hierarchy in this story -- Will doesn't think he is worthy of Charlotte, whom he considers a lady.
"I don't know Lord Spencer. Is he deserving of you, then?"
"Deserving of me?" Charlotte leaned on her arm to speak close, granting him a breathtaking view of her breasts. "He is far above me in rank and consequence. You mustn't say such things aloud this evening, Mr. Repton, and presume upon the good graces of our betters."
- loc 868 - 879
This is one of two obstacles that Will needs to overcome. He continues to be haunted by what happened to him in Tibet, and feels he could not move forward unless he returns to Tibet and find Aimee. And Charlotte knows she must make a good marriage if she is to maintain her reputation and protect her family's standing in society. With her brother's very open secret, Charlotte knows that she has a responsibility to abide by society's rules. She knows she must do this for the sake of her sister's family. But there's a part of her that is drawn to Will -- drawn to the danger that Will represents. Drawn to the adventure that Will represents. Will and Charlotte have an unusual courtship -- with Charlotte expressing her love very honestly and openly to Will. It's a bit disconcerting to have Charlotte offer her love, and to have Will reject it several times.
I was initially annoyed with how badly Will was behaving towards Charlotte, but I realized that it was partly an act (to what extent was it pretend is subject to further reflection) to get Charlotte to stop with her infatuation of him. He was trying to show the extreme negative aspect of him because he didn't think he deserved her hero worship. He didn't think he deserved her. For the longest time, I couldn't understand what was holding Will back -- the author didn't really delve too deeply into Will's nightmares -- but, when it was all eventually fleshed out, I understood Will's motivations better.
What I wish was developed more was Will's interest in flowers -- and how that interest transferred to Charlotte, who is, based on the descriptions about her, a very rare lady. I loved the part where Will gave Charlotte flowers, and when he talked about flowers in relation to Charlotte. ^_^
"Why hasn't he?" Mr. Repton set his glass down hard on the mantel.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Spencer. Why hasn't he learned your favorite flowers?"
"He brings you tulips and roses and carnations. Never snowdrops or narcissus or lily of the valley, not that those are your favorites. Neither is jasmine, but I thought you'd like how the perfume changes at night. Never once have I seen him bring you peonies."
She could only stare back.
"White peonies, right?" He considered her, his voice gentling. "No -- cream. With a pink blush at its heart, marked by stripes of raspberry and a tangle of gold stamens within, revealed only in bloom." He blinked and diverted his stare. "That is your favorite, I think."
- loc 803-814
The story is slow to build an emotional momentum, but the author hits her groove in the middle part -- and that's when I started to really feel my heart tugging for the characters and their private torments. Susanne Lord does a good job of hinting at the other "London Explorers" that, I hope, she features in the next books in this series. George Mayhew is particularly intriguing. ^_^
Overall, this was a solid start for a new series, and a great debut book from a new author. Looking forward to reading more from Susanne Lord. ^_^
In Search of Scandal is Susanne Lord's debut novel and the first book in her London Explorers series. It was released on December 1, 2015. To find out more about Susanne Lord and her books, click below:
Disclosure: I received this ARC via Netgalley. Thank you to Sourcebooks Casablanca and Susanne Lord for the opportunity. Yes, this is an honest review.