Scandalous Virtue
by Brenda Hiatt, historical (1999)
Harper, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-101379-X


Brenda Hiatt has served up a wonderful story about a prim and proper widow trying her best to live a little matched with a rake trying his best to act proper and gentlemanly. If you're tired of Amanda Quick rehashing her stories in new packages and can't wait for the next Regency historical romance by folks like Stephanie Laurens, you can do worse than picking up this light, fun book.

Agnes "I hate Agnes, call me Nessa!" Haughton is tired of being proper and good. She was raised by a Puritan father and handed off in marriage to an equally starchy man. Now, barely a year widowed, she is determined to let no fuddy-wuddy man control her life again. She wants to live a little. Kick off her shoes, go attend a few masked balls, flirt... nothing extreme, but you know, fun. One night she sneaks into a masked ball and in an act most daring for her, sneaked a kiss at the handsome gentleman she sees there. She then flees, exhilarated, feeling most proud of herself for being so daring.

That man is Jack Ashcroft, rake and degenerate who also happened to be a War Hero (aren't they always?). Having just came into his title, he is determined to honor his beloved grandfather's wishes and be a good Marquis - even though he could do without the responsibility. However, his reputation is beyond repair, and nobody will accept him in Society. Ergo, he decides to follow the fastest path to Respectability - marriage to the most prim and proper woman he could find - Neesa. But Neesa doesn't want marriage, she wants freedom after all her life living under her Puritan menfolk. And the last thing Jack needs is a woman determined to be carefree. But alas, they have eyes only for each other, and soon, Jack decides he wants Neesa by hook or by crook!

Ms Hiatt has an easy, charming style in her writing. Humorous banters flow aplenty. But most wonderful of all is Neesa. Here is an intelligent, clear-headed woman who knows she is a little out of her depths in Society. She tries so hard to be careful, but alas, she is too alive - too vibrant - to be constrained by widow's weeds. She doesn't deny that she finds Jacks' degenerate reputation rather exciting. She knows what she is getting into when she gets involved with Jack. At one point she even told her sister, "I made my bed, I sleep on it." Her character is refreshing from the simpering innocent debutantes (or to be exact, spinsters) populating many Regency historical romances around.

Which brings me to Jack. He suffers poorly compared to Neesa, because one, he just cannot seem to communicate with Neesa properly and two, he is a bit of a moron. Sorry to be blunt, but yes, a moron, and I mean that in a shake-my-head-in-bemusement manner. Only a moron would drag his ex-mistress into his carriage for an argument in a very public place where everyone would fight to be the first to tell his wife. Only a moron would take his wife to Paris and inadvertently parade her before all his ex-paramours and dissolute friends. And only a first-class moron would get married fast just to avoid succumbing to temptation in Paris. Hello?

Having said all that, yes, somehow I still like Jack. Neesa is my favorite, however, as she carries her head high and proud over any nonsense Jack inadvertently drag her into. Here is a wonderful heroine who is not afraid to cut into any busybody Society matrons or let anyone trample over her, for that matter. She may be raised to be obedient, but forget it, hear her roar!

A not very interesting hero notwithstanding, this is a fun, funny, lighthearted romance, perfect for a lazy afternoon when you're in the mood for a good laugh. I enjoyed myself with Scandalous Virtue. All I can say is Neesa, you show 'em girl!

Rating: 83


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