Christina Doddís loyal fans will find her latest release, Scandalous Again, to be a tide-me-over sort of book. Itís not her finest work, but itís not terrible, either. And for those who find itís just their cup of tea, a sequel is on the way.
Madeline de Lacy, a marchioness and future duchess (this is explained) has returned to her father, the Duke of Magnus, after four years on the Continent. Madeline fled England after a broken love affair with Gabriel Ansell, Earl of Campion. Now she finds her scatterbrained father has wagered her off in a card game. Sheís to marry a Mr. Knight, a man sheís never met. But dear Papa has managed to hold onto the one remaining family heirloom, a tiara bequeathed to the Magnus family by Elizabeth I.
On her way to London to meet Mr. Knight and try to wrangle her way out of the betrothal, Madeline and her cousin, Eleanor, happen across ďThe Game of the CenturyĒ, a high-stakes card game with an ante of ten thousand pounds. Fearing that her gambling father will show up with the tiara as ante, Madeline decides to switch places with Eleanor, who acts as Madelineís companion. Eleanor will head for London and try to fend off Mr. Knight. Madeline will go to Chalice Hall and pretend to be a servant, hoping to run into her father and prevent him from entering the game.
This wonít be easy for Madeline, who is bossy, managing, and sure she knows best in just about every situation. To be a ladiesí maid, sheíll need to subdue her natural inclinations. She might even succeed, except that Madeline runs into Gabriel almost immediately upon arriving at Chalice Hall, and he recognizes her. Gabriel doesnít give her away. Instead, he decides to use his knowledge to blackmail Madeline into sleeping with him again, so they can experience the passion they knew once before - on the night Madeline broke off their engagement, after finding Gabriel gambling in a high-stakes card game. Having grown up with a father who is addicted to cards, itís the one thing she wonít tolerate in a husband.
This might be laudable, except that Gabriel is no gambler, and his reasons for doing what he did seemed utterly sound, at least to me. This reduced Madelineís decision to one of insistence on having things her way, no matter what the truth is. Four years later, these two are both determined to have the upper hand, leading them to a battle of wills that will be played out in bed.
Madeline and Gabriel arenít likely to impress anyone with their maturity. Theyíre by turns arrogant, stubborn, petulant, and thickheaded. Humor? Tenderness? How about just plain old friendship? Forget it. Theirs is a sexual battle, and while the author does a masterful job of cranking up the sensuality, itís about all thatís holding these two together. Gabriel is about as alpha as a male character can get, and his plan to make Madeline submit to his sexual domination didnít sit all that comfortably. Madeline isnít much better. Once she tries sex again, she quickly figures out how to use it to get what she wants. These two didnít feel bonded by much beyond the physical.
But the book is genuinely steamy. I canít remember the last time I read a romance where one love scene lasted for three chapters, and thereís a fair level of explicitness, too. Madeline and Gabriel tease and taunt each other by turns. I was disappointed to find a huge element of convenience thrown in to explain Madelineís proficiency with oral sex (the ďoh, rightĒ factor), which seemed to serve no purpose other than allowing Madeline to dominate the scene, as it were.
The ending wraps up in a hurry, and more is on the way with Eleanor, who is stuck in London pretending to be a marchioness. Scandalous Again is light on plot and characterization, but heavy on sex. If thatís what youíre in the mood for, it will likely fit the bill nicely.