A Most Scandalous Proposal
by Ashlyn Macnamara
(Ballantine, $7.99, G) ISBN 978-0-345-53474-3
****
A Most Scandalous Proposal is Ashlyn Macnamara's tale of two sisters, the lovely Julia and the emotional Sophia St. Claire.

Julia St. Claire is headstrong, determined and in control. She's always been in charge of her life and plans to continue to do so, even though her mother's determined that she marry a man with a title to make up for the fact that Mr. St. Claire is a mere mister. Julia doesn't care for status or titles, she just wants to keep her own ambitions intact and marry a nice gentleman who will let her have her way. Julia refuses to admit that her oldest friend, Benedict Revelstoke's return to town after his time in the army, affects her in any way. He always seems to be around when she needs him, to comfort and amuse her.

Sophia St. Claire has been in love with William Ludlowe for five years. He's only spoken to her a few times, but his handsome face and elegant ways have blinded Sophia to all others ever since she first laid eyes on him. One small twist of fate at a ball lands Sophia in a drawing room, alone, with Rufus Highgate, a perfect stranger with a scandalously tainted reputation for having killed his wife. They are found alone at the ball by some of the ton's most notorious gossips and are forced to announce their betrothal.

Julia's plans for a solidly predictable life completely fall apart when she finds out that her father has a secret gambling debt to Ludlowe that he's arranged to erase by marrying off Julia to the handsome cad, without her consent. Now, Mrs. St. Claire is behind the match as she has no wish to be destitute, Sophia is devastated that her secret love is set to marry her sister, and Benedict rushes in to try to help but only makes matters worse as Julia's so confused by her feelings for him.

A Most Scandalous Proposal is like a good French farce, funny and twisted as the story unravels before the reader's eyes. Julia and Sophia were lovely heroines, both figuring out what they really want while confiding in each other. Julia's more composed, desperately contained, control freak type personality is nicely balanced by the very emotional, sweet persona of Sophia. They are great foils for one another and do rub off on one another as the story goes on.

Benedict could have turned into a fool with his love of Julia but manages to stop at being sweetly endearing and a wonderful hero to cheer on. I liked his visits to the club with his friends that helped to flesh him out. Highgate is a bit of a mystery through the first part of the book but turns out quite nicely as time goes on and Sophia discovers him.

There is also a background story with Mr. and Mrs. St. Claire that I appreciated, adding color to their daughters' romances. While A Most Scandalous Proposal was definitely amusing and well written, it was missing the steam, romance and sensuality that could have turned it into a 5 heart read for me, but well worth picking up for a weekend getaway.

-- Amy Wroblewsky


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