|Gayle Callen has received mixed reviews from TRR and her latest entry epitomizes that range from two to four hearts. A Most Scandalous Engagement has many good points but also some major distractions that kept me from totally enjoying the tale.
One major distraction is the character of the heroine. Lady Elizabeth Cabot was a heroine who I could never get fully behind, making it hard to root for her happily ever after with anyone, let alone the hero. And the hero was often manipulative, making it hard to fully embrace him. Although Peter Derby was a good guy with a caring heart, he also had some self-confidence issues due to the fact that he was not a blueblood. He earned his fortune, thus leaving him with no title and as the sister of a Duke, Elizabeth often thought he was beneath her, as did the rest of the ton. In order to get what he wanted, mainly Elizabeth, this caused Peter to prevaricate and use her secret as leverage.
The story opens as Peter realizes that Elizabeth is the subject of a nude painting hanging in his club. She and several friends are trying to get it and fail. The painting was supposed to be for a private collector. Peter knows it is Elizabeth because he has pined for her from afar almost their entire lives. They grew up together as neighbors. That same night, several of Peterís friends are with him and they bet they can discover the identity of the model. Elizabeth and her friends split up the men and plan to distract them from their course of action. Elizabeth gets to distract Peter.
Elizabeth is in her second season and remains unengaged. She has been pining for William, the brother of one of her friends, who doesnít seem to know she is alive. Another man, Lord Thomas, offered for her but Elizabeth turned him down. He ends up posing a threat to her, as he too has discovered the painting is of her. Elizabeth convinces Peter to pose as her fiancť as a ruse to protect herself from Lord Thomas. But the joke is on her, as she slowly falls in love with Peter.
There are several side stories, including one of Peterís sister Mary Ann, who is flaunting herself by playing billiards against men and winning. She is one of the more intriguing of the characters, but was so sulky through much of the beginning that it was hard to warm to her at first. William is never completely out of the picture for long, either.
I struggled with the lying, the conniving and ultimately the use of seduction as Peterís weapons. He basically convinces Elizabeth that he needs to teach her about love if she is to snare William. I just could never buy it completely.
Callenís style involves a lot of dialogue and often this is how she unveils her plot. At times I just could not appreciate this. The scenes seemed to go on forever and it felt that little of substance was really in the tale. This caused me to put the book down a lot and be reluctant to pick it back up. The ending picked up as things were revealed and honesty prevailed amongst the main characters, but for me, it was too little too late.
It is not often I find myself disliking a heroine this much, but Lady Elizabeth was self-centered through much of the tale and because she was so conniving in her actions with Peter, who was basically a good guy, it took me time to warm up to her. As seems to be the trend in this book, it was not soon enough to change my opinion of the story.
A Most Scandalous Engagement is a mixed bag of dialogues, seduction scenes and a rather convoluted story with several romances going on. Gatle Callen has written better.