Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare

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On the night of the Parkhurst ball, someone had a scandalous tryst in the library.

Was it Lord Canby, with the maid, on the divan? Or Miss Fairchild, with a rake, against the wall? Perhaps the butler did it.

All Charlotte Highwood knows is this: it wasn’t her. But rumors to the contrary are buzzing. Unless she can discover the lovers’ true identity, she’ll be forced to marry Piers Brandon, Lord Granville–the coldest, most arrogantly handsome gentleman she’s ever had the misfortune to embrace. When it comes to emotion, the man hasn’t got a clue.

But as they set about finding the mystery lovers, Piers reveals a few secrets of his own. The oh-so-proper marquess can pick locks, land punches, tease with sly wit . . . and melt a woman’s knees with a single kiss. The only thing he guards more fiercely than Charlotte’s safety is the truth about his dark past.

Their passion is intense. The danger is real. Soon Charlotte’s feeling torn. Will she risk all to prove her innocence? Or surrender it to a man who’s sworn to never love?

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Publisher and Release Date: Avon, September 2016
Time and Setting: Nottinghamshire, 1819
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Sara

Tessa Dare manages to find the best of both worlds in her latest release Do You Want to Start a Scandal. Combining the strong-willed and passionate women of her Spindle Cove series with the pop culture winks and humor of her Castles Ever After series creates a hilarious and thoughtful story of love between polar opposites.

It all started with the best of intentions. Miss Charlotte Highwood had hoped to warn his lordship the Marquess of Granville about the tricks her mother might attempt to bring them together during the Parkhurst house party. Knowing that she and the lofty peer wouldn’t suit each other as partners Charlotte decides to outsmart her mother by talking to Granville first and making a plan to keep as far from the other as possible for the duration of the party. Finding him alone in Lord Parkhurst’s library seems like the perfect chance to let him know of her plan; however their meeting is rudely interrupted by two other guests barging into the library. Charlotte and Granville hide together in the window seat, managing to hear every moment of the lover’s tryst happening on the other side of the curtain. When the coast is clear they try to leave the scene but the young master of the house sees them in the hallway and raises a cry of alarm. As the other party guests start converging in the hallway the damage to Charlotte’s good name has been done and everyone believes that she and Granville were the library lovers.

Piers Brandon had hoped to keep a low profile while attending the house party. If he had stayed focused on his task of investigating Lord Parkhurst and played his well-rehearsed role of the bored peer then he could have safely maneuvered Charlotte out of the library before they were discovered together. Somehow her forward but charming way of speaking threw him off of his game just enough for him to make a mistake; however Piers isn’t the type to allow an error to go uncorrected. Acting the noble gentleman, Piers makes it seem to all the guests that he and Charlotte have an understanding and he later discusses a real engagement with the woman herself. When she seems more than a bit reluctant to accept his suit Piers puts all of his skills at seduction to use by overcoming Charlotte’s misgivings about a match and showing her just how good they can be together.

I will stop right there with the plot synopsis because how the story unfolds for Charlotte and Piers is too good to be spoiled. On the surface they seem like the most unlikely pair to have such chemistry together. He’s brusque and logical while she’s lighthearted and a bit of a romantic. There’s an age gap which Charlotte notes on more than one occasion that should also keep them from having anything in common. But once they begin to peel the layers back on who they really are there are so many things that make them perfect for each other. Charlotte is smart enough to catch onto Piers’ dry wit and they are amused by the same absurdities they witness at the house party. She can see right through his mask of the lordly Marquess to the man beneath it all who could use a confidante. I adored their conversations not only for the playfulness that sneaks into their remarks but also how well they talk and hear what is being said. Piers tries to keep Charlotte in the dark with his own plans and yet she can understand the subtext and calls him on his duplicity.

Piers may be the smartest man in whatever room he’s in and yet he completely misses the clues within himself that he’s falling for Charlotte. He thinks he’s losing his touch for secrecy and such but it’s more that Charlotte just captures all of his focus whenever she’s in the room with him. She has an exuberance that makes her character different from the two older Highwood sisters and yet she fears that she has nothing to distinguish herself within the family. It was interesting to see both characters believe one thing about themselves but discover so much more as they fell in love. There is an easiness to Charlotte and Piers’ romance that keeps the tone of the entire book very light even when Charlotte learns more about Piers’ darker side.

The humor made things even more enjoyable. I found myself laughing out loud during Mrs. Highwood’s conversation with Charlotte about the wedding night and her silly examples of the male and female parts. This was one of those moments where I’m certain the author was having the most fun writing as she managed to wedge modern emojis into an historical setting. Charlotte’s declaration of love was also a funny moment as her heart gets ahead of her brain and she manages to garble those three little words. I even liked the addition of the young Parkhurst sibling’s ridiculous accusations of a MURDER occurring in the library and trying to capture Piers as the culprit. I love a story that doesn’t get itself get bogged down by all the deep feelings of the characters and just has some fun in creating the romantic situation.

As a fan of both previous series I appreciated the return of several beloved characters as it brought both worlds together in a believable way. We see Piers’ brother Rafe, both of Charlotte’s older sisters with their spouses and of course her aggressively matchmaking mother. I’m not sure if Do You Want to Start a Scandal was intended to close out the Spindle Cove and Castles Ever After series or launch them both into a new direction with a few new characters but I’ll be eager to see what comes next.

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