Lord Of Scoundrels
by Loretta Chase, historical (1995)
Avon, $6.50, ISBN 0-380-77616-2


Loretta Chase's Lord Of Scoundrels is hailed by many readers as the Perfect Regency Historical Romance. Well, it isn't perfect (which book is?) but it is a wonderful story. It's Beauty And The Beast with the charm factor cranked up ten times. Lord Of Scoundrels is a funny memorable story that manages to portray a complicated, complex hero at the same time. In short, Ms Chase has managed to balance humor with poignancy. Not an easy task, but she succeeded amazingly.

The story begins with Jessica Trent charging up like the Amazonian she is into her silly brother Bertie's Parisian apartment. The nitwit has got himself deep into debts trying to live the lifestyle of his new idol Sebastian Ballister, the Marquess of Dain. What is a lady to do in the face of a stupid brother's folly that threatens to drag her down with him?

Confront the source of his brother's idiocy, that's what. When Dain and Jess find themselves fighting over a rare painting, sparks fly. She will give it to him if he will just kick her brother out of his debauched circle of buddies, but unfortunately, Dain sees this as a challenge to his pride. The Miss thinks she's boss, eh? Well, Dain would show her.

Dain and Jess' sparring is fun- pure, simple fun. If you want chemistry, you'll find it in spades here. These two are more than a match for each other.

Dain is a brute, but the author provides a background that more than excuses his churlish, often childish behavior. At the same time, he is never cruel. He is more of a befuddled man stomping around, driving people away from him before they can make fun of his huge size and overgrown nose and hence hurt him. This is a man who made a career out of mocking his own ugliness yet terrifying others with his Who gives a *bad word* attitude.

Until Jess breezes in and improvises Cupid's tactics by lodging a bullet instead of an arrow in him. Practical Jess, who tries so hard to stay sensible in the onslaught of Dain's virility.

Bertie had told her Dain was a very large man. She had half expected a hulking gorilla. She had not been prepared for a stallion: big and splendidly proportioned - and powerfully muscled, if what his snug trousers outlined was any indication. She should not have been looking there, even if it was only an instant's glance, but a physique like that demanded one's attention and drew it... everywhere. After that unladylike instant, it had taken every iota of her stubborn willpower to keep her gaze upon his face. Even then, she'd only managed the feat because she was afraid that otherwise she'd lose what little remained of her reason, and do something horribly shocking.

In the words of Bart Simpson, cool man!

The charm of LOS lies not in the plot (which is admittedly pretty much so-so), but the tiny little moments of Dain and Jess' interaction. It brings a while grin on my face seeing how Dain gets more and more flabbergasted in his dealings with Jess. He couldn't treat her like the ladybirds he is used to, she wouldn't go away when he growls at her, and when she's near, he can't think straight. Dain is an adorable, growly teddy bear. All bark, no bite, and therein lies his charm.

He is also intelligent enough not to wallow in self pity about his ugliness, using it to enhance his infamous reputation and standing in his circles. Underneath the gorilla-like build, there's a keen mind. Hence, Dain is an irresistible mix of brain and brawn. He's built like a stallion and he's smarter than almost everyone in Paris. Can any woman resist?

And best of all, when Dain falls, he falls hard. It is heartwrenching to read of his attempts to keep Jess at his side. After all, he's human - he thinks Jessica is the most beautiful woman alive and he wants to keep her, but he is afraid she will disappear one day.

I'm losing her, he thought and his hand came up, instinctively, to reach for her and draw her back. But he reached for the coffeepot instead. He filled his cup and stared helplessly at the dark liquid and saw his black future there, because it was not in him to give her what she wanted.

And I really adore this scene:

With thw world securely in order, Dain was able to devote the leisurely bath time to editing his mental dictionary. He removed his wife from the general category labeled "Females" and gave her a section of her own. He made a note that she didn't find him revolting, and proposed several explanations: (a) bad eyesight and faulty hearing, (b)a defect in a portion of her otherwise sound intellect, (c) an inherited Trent eccentricity, or (d) an act of God. Since the Almighty had not done him a single act of kindness in at least twenty-five years, Dain thought it was about bloody time, but he thanked his Heavenly Father all the same, and promised to be as good as he was capable of being.

Isn't that cute? All together now: Awwwwwww.

Jessica is a little less complicated than Dain - she is free from emotional baggage and sometimes is in danger of becoming a one-dimensional feisty, unconventional heroine. Yet she manages to hold her own, especially with her often amusing attempts to get her husband to behave the way she wants him to. It's not easy, she is too interested in examining Dain's body more closely to think straight. But her unconventional outlook also allows her to look under Dain's facade and discover the lost, lonely man underneath. In the end, Jess and Dain's relationship feels right, because she is the only one capable - and madly in love enough - to handle the big brute that is Dain. And Dain will let only her manage him, because he knows he has her twisted around his finger. Fun!

Lord Of Scoundrels sparkles in the dialogs and little memorable episodes department. Jess and Dain exchange some of the best banters I've read, and they have a knack of inserting some heartfelt exchanges in between exchanging friendly insults. There's one instance where they were bickering about Dain's decision not to take her to a boxing match, when Dain actually says that she is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. Just like that, but for Jess - and me - it is like a revelation from a man who finds it hard to express his thoughts and emotions.

The beauty of this story is that long after I've closed the book, I still could remember the small episodes - describing them here would be spoiling the story - little moments that just seem so real. Dain and Jess feel real, like people I have known for so long, and their antics and words make me laugh and sigh. This book is also very well-written, and I end feeling as if I'm right there in the story with Jess and Dain, watching them bicker and stumble and love their way to a happy ending.

Fun, comedy, heartfelt emotions, and two great lead characters, plus a passel of fun secondary characters (Bertie and Genevieve) all only make Lord Of Scoundrels what it is - a really, really great book.

Rating: 99


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