A Scandalous Marriage
by Cathy Maxwell, historical (2000)
Avon, $6.50, ISBN 0-380-80832-3


Cathy Maxwell's heroines have always been problematic to me. Most of time her heroines' sole virtue for being loved seems to be their child-like innocence and purity that appeals to the jaded rake, and no matter how feisty the heroine can be (the heroine of Falling In Love Again and Married In Haste demonstrate the rare spine), they still can never stand up to the hero.

Leah Carrollton of A Scandalous Marriage has some spine, but most of the time she's nothing more than a damsel in duress, a foil to bring out our hero's chivalric instincts. It doesn't overwhelm me with the heroine's Ooh, help me - I'm such a countrified innocent! behavior, and it has some wonderful moments, but it isn't keeper material, thanks to the heroine's constant waif-like nature.

Never can stand those clingy, breathless, Help me darling please! women, if I may say so myself.

Leah is ruined. In a silly attempt to evade marriage to a disagreeable fellow, she gives herself to a rake (she must have read too many Regency historical romances, poor girl) so that no virginity = no marriage. Poor Leah - this sort of thing only happen in historical romances, not real life. (Er...) Anyway, the result is a baby and absolute ruination.

Wishing to keep the baby, Leah flees to the countryside of Yorkshire, even if she has to live in substandard quality of life. While feeding the pigs, she chances upon Devon Marshall, a viscount on a mad dash to make peace with his grandfather before the old codger kicks the bucket. Devon, you see, was an old flame, but you know how things are. His family and her family are the Regency equivalent of Montague and Capulet.

In between too-sweet I love you, don't you love me Devvy darlin'? flashbacks (again, Leah is no match for Devon, much to my frustration), they decide to get married. Out of convenience, of course, for Devon doesn't think he can love again (yawn). But Leah, hopelessly in love eternal and forever with Devon, has an advantage - a baby Devon dotes on, and her Help me! Ivy-wrap special, guaranteed to evoke a man's protective instincts.

That's the trouble with A Scandalous Marriage. I love the way the plot could have been, a powerful, emotionally-taut story of rediscovering love the second time around. The first time around, Devon has naughty designs on Leah (and Leah has no clue until she gets knocked in the head with it) and Leah is too much of a wimp to stand up to him or her family. The second time around, an editor from the Duncan Mills romance factory must have told Leah how babies work like charm to make a man all tizzy with love.

Leah annoys me, because she's loved for what she is, which, to me, is only half of the equation. She rarely does anything on the virtue of her courage (or when she does, Devon's always there to give her a safety net). As a result, she - like many of Ms Maxwell's heroines - are completely oblivious to the hero's (not-too-subtle) pulling of her strings. Which, of course, leads to some nice teary scenes which only make me roll up my eyes in disgust.

Maybe I would love A Scandalous Marriage if I'm in the mood for hapless women whose finding of happiness seem to rely more on luck (they're lucky the men didn't dump them, not that they would know until the last nanosecond) than anything else. But I'm not, never am, come to think of it. Oh well. A Scandalous Marriage gets 77 on the virtue of great storytelling alone. Would've scored more if Leah isn't what she is.


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