Two forbidden relationships…one house party to remember!
THE OFFICER’S TEMPTATION by Marguerite Kaye
Colonel Fergus Kennedy must make a suitable match at the Midsummer Ball. But when this officer encounters sultry acrobat Katerina Vengarov, he finds himself torn between duty…and heart-stopping, irresistible passion!
THE DEBUTANTE’S AWAKENING by Bronwyn Scott
Kael Gage is the last person at the Midsummer Ball Miss Zara Titus should speak to—and anything more is definitely off-limits! But the notorious rake seems determined to awaken this innocent debutante’s every desire…
Publisher and Release Date: Mills & Boon / Harlequin Historical, May 2016
Time and Setting: England, June 1817
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars
Review by Wendy
These two stories, running concurrently, take place at a house party being hosted by the powerful Duke and Duchess of Brockmore. Marriages, political alliances and business deals are brokered at this annual event; the attendees know why they are privileged enough to gain a coveted invitation and play the game…..almost. I loved this concept and it was interesting to see how these two authors approached it. And also to see the protagonists from each story occasionally appearing in the other. Given that these authors live thousands of miles apart and have never met, it must have been a difficult feat to perform especially as it is seamlessly well done. I am a fan of Marguerite Kaye’s work but this was my first time reading Bronwyn Scott.
The Officer’s Temptation by Marguerite Kaye. 4 stars
Colonel Fergus Kennedy has been invited to the house-party at the behest of the Duke of Wellington. Fergus who has fought his way to the top under his own steam, is a highly thought of man of honour and integrity, and also one of the Iron Duke’s brightest protégés. After a couple of peace-time years vegetating behind a desk, he is eager for a more challenging role, which comes in the form of a possible posting to Egypt. There is only one fly in the ointment; the posting is for a married man and his wife must be capable of becoming a diplomatic hostess. Desperate to return to active service, Fergus is resigned to his fate. If he must marry, then he will and he is prepared to make the pre-ordained match if the lady and he like each other. The lady happens to be the niece of The Duke of Brockmore and she is NOT prepared to be matched with Fergus.
Lady Verity Fairholme has other ideas and gives Fergus no encouragement at all, and he quickly comes to realise that he actually doesn’t like being treated as though he were the dirt on the bottom of someone’s shoe. An encounter with the captivating and talented Russian gymnast, Katerina Vengarov who has been employed, with her brother, to provide the entertainment for this year’s Russian themed party, also shows him that making such a cold-blooded match is not within his power. The attraction between this unlikely pair is instant: they recognise it but it seems an impossible scenario – how can the situation possibly be resolved?
I loved Fergus’s and Katerina’s characters, Ms. Kaye crafts strong, independent women and gorgeous, likeable men, and these two are no exception. How the situation is resolved is interesting, as with Katerina’s help, Fergus has a light-bulb moment. This author is exceptionally good at showing us the different sides of a situation. The much lauded Wellington WAS a brilliant soldier and he DID inspire his officers and men to follow him – but he was also an egotistical man who manipulated his followers, mostly for his own good. The author has done a great job within the confines of a novella without compromising either the romance or the deeper moral issues she has raised. I’d really like to see the outcome of the enterprise that Katerina and Fergus embark upon – perhaps as another story with Alexandr, Katerina’s brother, as the hero.
The Debutante’s Awakening by Bronwyn Scott. 3.5 stars
Miss Zara Titus is a last minute addition to the guest-list. Her long standing betrothal has been broken and her mother is anxious to plaster over the broken engagement and find a replacement husband for her daughter without delay. Zara is quite enjoying her new found freedom and has no intentions of going along with her mother’s machinations – but the Viscountess doesn’t know that. As the Duke is introducing her to other guests she is aware of the eyes of a handsome, bold young man on her, and feels immediately drawn to him. It is quickly made clear to her by the duke that he is not for her – which of course only makes her more interested.
Kael Gage has only managed to gain entry to the party with the help of a friend; and I must add here that I’m not sure if I missed something important but I can’t quite see how he did it. If the Duke of Brockmore’s invitations are so coveted I can’t see that a man such as he could have obtained one, even with the help of a friend. Kael lives on the fringe of polite society; the impoverished grandson of an earl, he has only a small estate which he uses as the stud-farm that provides his income. He is not considered to be a good match; this only serves to make him a more exciting prospect to Zara. The pair embark on a flirtation and Kael begins to teach Zara how to rebel in style. They are physically attracted to each other and although Zara is fairly ripe for seduction, Kael behaves honourably and stops short of ruining her completely even though the rebellious Zara is ready for more.
I liked both of Bronwyn Scott’s characters but particularly Kael Gage who, although boldly handsome and rakish, also has a vulnerable streak. He’s been deeply hurt in the past and has developed his outer roguish persona as a coping mechanism. A charming stud if you like, and useful for only one thing as far as women of the ton are concerned. As a result of this hidden vulnerability he can’t help feeling unworthy of the beautiful, wealthy and eminently marriagable, Zara. As the pair begin to feel more than just a physical attraction the story takes a deeper and more serious turn, I liked the way the author developed the sensitive and far more important issues underpinning this apparently light and flirtatious story.
All in all, Scandal at the Midsummer Ball is a good, solid read by these two authors. I particularly liked the way they handled the characters of the Duke and Duchess of Brockmore, a couple in their fifties, married for three decades and still very much in love. The fact that they are childless is mentioned more than once and I thought it a nice touch to point out that although this fact has been a great sadness to them it hasn’t been the most important issue in their long and happy marriage.