Scandal and Miss Smith
by Julia Byrne
(Harlequin, $4.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-51117-5
Scandal and Miss Smith is my favorite of the first four Mills and Boon Regencies that Harlequin is reprinting this month. (See Marshall review for more details about this welcome development.) Its premise is one I always enjoy: the humanizing of a cold and distant hero by a most unlikely heroine. That the book has more than a bit of nicely done humor and a touch of danger is an additional plus.

Phoebe Smith has been governess to the Deverall brood for two years and she has had enough. Although she is quite fond of her charges, she realizes that an eighteen year old young gentleman and twin seventeen year old young ladies need someone to take them in hand, preferably their uncle, Sebastian, Lord Deverall. When his lordship refuses to answer her letters, she takes matters into her own hands and brings Gerald, Theodosia and Cressida to London to turn them over to their guardian.

Phoebe’s initial meeting with Lord Deverall is not auspicious; he thinks she is a bird of paradise in disguise, sent to him by one of his friends. Sebastian sees beneath Phoebe’s governess’ drabness to see the lovely woman she is. He is intrigued and decides he wants to pursue the acquaintance. So he offers Phoebe a position as companion to his nieces while they are in London. Without a reference, Phoebe has no choice but to accept.

Sebastian had left England in disgrace as a young man, cast off by his family. He made his fortune in India and earned his own title. He has little interest in the well-being of his wards, his aunt, his cousin or much of anybody else. But Phoebe will not accept such selfishness. She forces him, against his will, to once again become involved. That his nephew and especially his nieces have a penchant for getting into all sorts of scrapes makes disengagement impossible. But it is Phoebe’s blithe expectation that he shares her sentiments and his growing attachment to this lovely young woman which really brings him out of his shell.

It is great fun watching Sebastian fall in love with Phoebe. His original intentions are not necessarily honorable, but he soon realizes that she is an innocent and thus, off limits. But her charm and warmth beguile him and soon he realizes that she is the woman for him. Phoebe is not immune to Sebastian’s charms, but her lowly position and her knowledge of a scandal in her family convince her that she cannot hope for marriage. Stolen kisses open to her a world of passion she has never known. But will there be a happy ending?

Byrne provides a cast of charming secondary characters. The Deverall siblings are high-spirited and prone to humorous pranks. Phoebe’s clerical suitor also adds some fun, as do the Deverall’s languid cousin and her poet suitor. Then there is the mystery of why Lord Crowhurst has such a strange interest in Phoebe.

Scandal and Miss Smith is a most enjoyable Regency romance. I hope Harlequin is planning to reprint lots and lots of Byrne’s stories.

--Jean Mason

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