The Abduction of Julia

A Belated Bride

An Affair to Remember

The Seduction of Sara

Confessions of a Scoundrel
by Karen Hawkins
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-82080-3
An entertaining, well-paced story and nice chemistry between the hero and heroine make Confessions of a Scoundrel a fun read.

Brandon St. John swears that, no matter how strenuous or pleasurable his night-time activities, he will never again miss a meeting called by his siblings. In his absence, they elected him to visit Lady Verena Westforth, with whom they fear their youngest brother, Chase, has formed an unacceptable attachment.

Brand’s assignment is to purchase the notorious widow’s promise never to see their brother again. Chase has unaccountably left town and they would like to resolve the business before he returns.

Brand finds Lady Westforth’s residence surprisingly presentable for a lady whose circumstances have reduced her to a life on the fringes of the demi-monde, although her ramshackle, kleptomaniac butler is a bit of a trial to a man with a hangover.

Lady Westforth herself is not exactly what Brand expected, either. He finds he is both attracted and intrigued so he’s disappointed when, after an initial show of reluctance, Verena finally accepts five thousand pounds to stay away from Chase.

What Brand does not know is that Verena has already received a proposal from Chase - and turned it down. He also does not yet know that Verena’s twin brother (who, unlike Verena, still practices the family trade of con artistry) is being blackmailed.

Oddly enough, Brand’s good friend Roger Carrington is also being threatened. Apparently someone believes Roger can find a “coded missive” of “vast import” that was lost or stolen at one of Verena’s dinner parties. He pleads for Brand’s help in recovering the document and Brand agrees - at least partly because it gives him a good reason to approach Verena again without giving away his own unaccountable interest in the lady.

This book has a wonderful, engaging beginning. At almost every step, the author appears to be taking the reader in one expected direction after another, only to veer off down a completely different garden path. Not only is it refreshing to be surprised, but the unpredictable conduct, particularly from Verena, goes a long way towards building a clearer picture of her character than all the typical romance heroine behavior in the world.

Brand, if somewhat less original, manages to show his true colors in his reactions to Verena. He is fascinated rather than put off by her unconventionality and gradually gives up his preconceived notions about her when he discovers she doesn’t fit them.

Equally refreshing is the fact that, although Verena is not the wanton everyone presumes from her lifestyle, she is no shrinking virgin. She loved her husband and enjoyed all the private aspects of marriage, if not the public difficulties of being married to a charming wastrel. As a result, when her passionate response to Brand’s seduction eventually gets the better of her, she is a willing and enthusiastic participant.

That, combined with their acerbic sparring outside of the bedroom and the intellectual jockeying for position as they move from manipulating each other to trusting each other, makes for a nicely adult relationship.

The ending is a bit of a let-down, only because it feels a bit abrupt and is not nearly as surprising or original as the story’s beginning. All in all, however, this is an enjoyable addition to Ms. Hawkins’ series about the St. John brothers.

-- Judi McKee

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