“What we got here is failure to communicate . . .”
From “Cool Hand Luke,” 1967
A Scandalous Affair reprises the story of the Montgomerys of Virginia whose story began in Donna Hill's 1995 romance, Scandalous. The Montgomerys are a socially and politically active family whose members include: high-powered attorney Justin; his wife, Congresswoman Vaughn; and their daughters Samantha and Simone. Although A Scandalous Affair is a stand-alone romance, I strongly recommend reading the first book to see how they came together as a family unit.
In the five years since we last visited the Montgomerys, Samantha has become a forceful community activist. Her sister Simone is a councilwoman currently running for a seat in the Virginia state assembly. In a plot reminiscent of news stories in many major cities, the African-American community in Hill's latest novel is grappling with a way to prevent racial profiling and shootings of unarmed Black citizens. Voters are being disenfranchised and there are political dirty tricks aplenty. Samantha’s search for solutions leads her to grassroots activism, while Simone works through the political process.
Attorney Chad Rushmore, who has just returned from four years of human rights work in Africa, suggests yet another battlefront: the federal courts. Chad is convinced that a class action lawsuit on behalf of the victims of police brutality will send a strong message. The young attorney, a protégé of Justin Montgomery, approaches his mentor for help. He also enlists assistance of the Montgomery sisters.
Chad Rushmore, who was also introduced in Scandalous, was there for Simone during a critical juncture in her life. “She’d had ‘a thing’ for Chad since her early days as a young intern at her stepfather’s law firm.” Four years ago as Chad was leaving to go to Africa, the ‘thing’ escalated into a night of passion. Inexplicably, the two lost contact during his absence. Now that Chad has returned, they both want to pick up where they left off. However - and it’s a big however - they keep sending each other mixed signals so that each thinks the other one is uninterested.
In the meantime, Samantha is unaware of her sister’s relationship with or intentions toward Chad. Simone had always described their relationship as platonic and from all outward appearances, it was. For six years, Samantha has been nursing her own Chad-thing. "Chad was the one who gave her that hot flush, that extra beat of her heart . . . She never felt he'd be interested in the woman she was becoming . . . So she hid her feelings from him, from the world, hiding behind her books, her studies, her causes, her family.” Working with Chad on his police brutality case, gives Samantha the opening she needs.
Samantha and Simone Montgomery - half-sisters who are best friends and confidantes - are unable to communicate with each other about their feelings for Chad. While the author has wisely avoided pitting sister against sister in a catfight over a man, even the subtle battle is still uncomfortable to watch. For his part, Chad is clueless even after Justin warns him that Simone still has unresolved feelings for him. What does he do? Chad asks Simone, she denies her feelings - both out of pride and in deference of her sister’s relationship with him.
The Montgomery sisters hearts aren’t the only things in jeopardy as a result of the class action lawsuit. When their lives are put in danger, their parents disagree over which approach to take. The elder Montgomerys’ relationship suffers a blow due to Justin’s insensitivity and inability to talk to Vaughn about his fears. He exacerbates the problem by calling in Samantha’s mother, Janice. Miscommunication extends beyond the Montgomerys to a couple of secondary characters as well.
Donna Hill has done an excellent job of weaving current events within her story. The characters are realistically drawn and play off well against each other. The story will particularly appeal to readers who have followed the Montgomery’s story in Scandalous. (Arabesque/BET Books has made sure copies of the first novel are on hand by ordering another printing of the 1995 romance.) There are mentions of Khendra Phillips, Sean Michaels and Quinn Parker from other popular Donna Hill romances. A Scandalous Affair is rated R for language. Sexual content is PG-13. It’s worth a look.