Scandalous by Jenna Petersen
(Avon, $5.99, R) ISBN 006-079859-9
****
Debut author Jenna Petersenís tale of two people who must overcome secrets, shameful manipulation and their own internal barriers to love is well written and engaging. There are a few minor discrepancies but the tale ultimately delivers.

Scandalous is the story of Katherine Fleming and Dominic Mallory. The title is one of those discrepancies. While threatened scandal is involved, the title really doesnít describe the essence of the book.

Katherine is set to marry Colden Mallory, who is recovering from the loss of his wife. Sarah was on a schooner bound for France when it sank. All are believed dead. Now a year later, Cole is determined to marry Katherine. Katherine is excited because this is just the type of marriage she wants Ė based on friendship, not passion; with little emotional attachment yet mutual respect. Her guardians are thrilled because it is occurring before her 21st birthday, which ensures they get a piece of her fortune. Katherine has been an orphan since her 13th birthday, when both parents were killed in a carriage accident. Her mother loved her father almost to obsession and she subjugated herself to him while he openly flaunted affairs and used her love to manipulate what he wanted. Katherine vowed never to love for fear the person would treat her the same way.

Cole, however, doesnít love Katherine. In fact, he wants her fortune. He has actually already used one property as payment for a debt. But two days before the wedding, during one of their many engagement balls, he finds out that Sarah is alive and returning to him. Now Katherine finds herself engaged to a married man. Luckily for all, Dominic Mallory, the estranged brother has returned. He first sights Katherine on the terrace and finds himself attracted to her. Unbeknownst to her, he negotiates with Cole. Cole convinces Dominic to marry Katherine to avoid the scandal. In exchange he will give Dominic the property called Lansing Square, a property that Dominic wants more than anything. He also bargains that Cole will keep Katherineís fortune and property since he has already used it.

So Katherine finds herself married to Dominic. Dominic is everything she did NOT want. He is charming, mysterious and he makes her passions flare. Dominic is attracted to Katherine more than he has ever been to any woman. But he has secrets. He is a bastard, the result of a love affair of his mother. However, she wonít tell him who his father is. Dominic suffered for this knowledge, as his father hated him and treated him abominably as did Cole. His mother mostly ignored him. He only had a relationship with his sister, Julia, who he didnít think knew of his plight. Dominic believes that Lansing Square holds the identity of his father. Katherine is determined to make it a home.

Theirs is a love story that withstands scrutiny. They discover each other slowly, led by their passion, but enhanced by their natural enjoyment of each other. They find they have much in common, yet their pasts keep getting in the way of fully allowing their feelings to show. Each is leery, yet they continually surprise themselves when they find they have connected. Dominic is tortured by his secrets Ė both of his ancestry and the knowledge that Katherine will not like the bargain he made. Katherine keeps drawing herself back every time she thinks she is getting too close. They let this go on just a tad too long, but the presence of their friends keeps it from becoming tedious.

Dominicís friend is Adrian Malleville, a man who befriended young Dominic and who has served as his mentor for years. He is Dominicís voice of reason. Katherine turns to Dominicís sister Julia, who had befriended her when she was engaged to Cole and now offers her a sounding board and advice, despite being a spinster herself. These two share a satisfying secondary romance.

Cole and Sarah rear their ugly heads and provide the antagonist role that every couple needs to push them into admitting their feelings. Petersen handles this like a pro and the resolution of all the struggles is deeply satisfying.

Petersen shows great promise with her first novel. Scandalous is engaging, enjoyable and highly recommended. Dominic and Katherine are a couple that one will remember long after finishing the story.

--Shirley Lyons


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