Greydon Brakenridge, the Duke of Wycliffe, is visiting the country and trying to escape the various matchmaking women who want him, his title and his money. Even while he tries to escape, he still has several men and women along with him who won’t let him alone. Bored with life and annoyed with women, he meets Miss Emma Grenville, headmistress of the local girls’ finishing school.
They clash immediately. Grey has strong opinions on how schools for women exist merely to teach females to simper and attract men. Emma has equally strong opinions on the oafish opinions of men who should know better. Grey thinks he holds the trump card in their battle, though. His uncle is Emma’s landlord and is also near bankruptcy. Grey demands that his uncle raise the rent for the school.
Instead Emma and he agree to a wager. If Emma can come up with a plan to make Grey’s uncle’s estate profitable, she wins. If her young ladies decide Grey is a better teacher than she is, then he wins. Grey is annoyed, attracted and aroused by Emma’s stubborn refusal to flatter him. Grey’s flock of friends are respectively bored, amused or angered by his preoccupation and try to find out why.
Both the hero and heroine have a lot to learn. Grey’s is forced to admit that the young ladies he teaches are learning useful lessons and that they are not merely there to charm their way into marriage with eligible men. Emma’s education is much more sexual. Grey and she are mutually seduced but, of course, Emma has much more to lose if that news becomes public. The scandal they create forces the two of them into realizing just what they’re willing to risk for each other.
There are some slight disappointments. The secondary characters are a mixed bag. The schoolgirls are charming and the would-be young fortune-hunter in their midst has his moments. Tristan, Grey’s friend, is amusing and provides insights into Grey. Grey’s other guests are somewhat superfluous. Only one female guest really stands out and is necessary to the plot. The others could be disposed of. And the reader has to have some doubts about whether a virginal headmistress of a school would throw herself so readily into an affair - at least without really thinking about the consequences until they begin to catch up with her.
Despite that, A Matter of Scandal is generally a delight. Grey could be an annoying character. He comes very close at the start of the story but his real character, helped along by Emma’s tart insights into his behavior and then his realization of just how important Emma is to him, is more responsible and caring than he is first willing to admit. Emma, always the more vulnerable of the two despite her fierce exterior, learns to overcome her childhood betrayal and realize that Grey won’t let her down. Even at his most dictatorial, there is a warm and human side to Grey that Emma brings out. Grey, in turn, allows Emma to become a delightful woman who dares to be more than a headmistress. Here romance allows two interesting, strong-willed characters become better people. That makes it a story worth reading.