Because of You

Falling In Love Again

Married in Haste

When Dreams Come True

You And No Other

A Scandalous Marriage
by Cathy Maxwell
(Avon, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-80832-3
Cathy Maxwell’s new Regency historical grabbed me from the first scene and never let me go. This is my definition of a five-heart read. Perhaps my delight in A Scandalous Marriage had something to do with the series of disappointing reads that has lately dimmed my enjoyment of my avocation. But whatever the cause, this book has restored my faith in the pleasures of reading romance.

We meet the hero as he rides wildly through Yorkshire on his way to London. Devon Marshall, Viscount Huxhold has just received a message that his grandfather, the Marquess of Kirkeby, is on his deathbed. Although estranged from the old man, Devon dearly wants to arrive in time to patch up their quarrel. After all, his grandfather had raised him after his parents were killed in a carriage accident when Devon was only seven.

Devon has chosen to ride across the fields rather than keep to the road, so great is his hurry. Then, his horse throws a shoe. In the distance, Devon spies a cottage and heads towards it, seeking help. He approaches a woman who is feeding the pigs and to his absolute astonishment, recognizes Leah Carrollton, who a year earlier had been one of London’s reigning belles. Leah is not only dressed in the garb of a servant girl; she is also heavily pregnant.

Leah flees towards the cottage, only to trip over a root. The fall brings on her labor and it is not an easy one. When the midwife despairs of both Leah and her child, Devon takes charge and helps bring the baby boy into the world. The next morning he returns and offers to marry Leah and raise her son as his own.

Obviously, Leah and Devon have a history. They met one evening at a society ball and for a magical moment, each thought to have found the one person they could truly love. But reality intruded. Devon discovered that the lovely debutante was a Carrollton, the daughter of the man who his family believed had been responsible for the fatal carriage accident. Leah discovered that the man who so quickly captured her fancy was a member of the family whose accusations had nearly driven the Carrolltons from polite society. Talk about Montagues and Capulets!

Devon decided to pursue the acquaintance, though his motives were far from pure. But as the two got to know each other, they discovered that love at first sight is not as unlikely as one might think. They discover common interests and common ideas. But the barriers to true love proved to be too great. They separate bitterly. Now, a year later, fate has brought them together.

Gradually and skillfully, Maxwell explains how and why Leah came to this pass, pregnant, unmarried and alone. Gradually and skillfully, Maxwell explains why Devon is willing to undertake such a scandalous marriage and to accept another man’s son. And gradually and skillfully, Maxwell shows us how Devon and Leah recapture the love which had bloomed so briefly and been cut off so sadly.

The explanations for Devon’s and Leah’s actions lie in the family dynamics that each experienced. By weaving together past and present, Maxwell creates fully realized characters whether these are her hero and heroine or the members of the Marshall and Carrollton families. How this scandalous marriage ultimately brings healing and acceptance is most effectively described.

I liked and admired both Leah and Devon. Estranged from his grandfather, Devon has made his own way in the world through hard work and intelligence. His reputation as a rake and a ne’er do well is a cover for his sharp mind and kind nature. For once, the heroine is worthy of the hero. Leah fled her family to protect her unborn child. She learned the hard way what life is like for those who are alone and friendless. No longer the frivolous lady of fashion, she is a woman of warmth and courage.

Maxwell has always written interesting and unusual Regency historicals with strong plots and well developed characters. TRR’s reviewers (myself included) have almost universally praised her books. In my opinion, A Scandalous Marriage is Maxwell’s best book yet. And it goes on my keeper shelf.

--Jean Mason

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