Scandalous
by Karen Robards, historical (2001)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 0-7434-1059-9


Scandalous is Karen Robard's return to historical romance since... uhm, does anyone remember? Was it This Side Of Heaven? Never mind. Scandalous may as well harken back to those dark old ages of romance because the two main characters' relationship seems to be 90% based on mutual distrust and 10% pawing. Love? Let me think.

Gabriella Banning is shocked when she receives news that her half-brother Marcus is dead. Not because she loves that man, but because she and her two sisters are entirely dependent on him. Her father was a really bad caricature of a woman-hating moron who left his daughters dependent on the heir of his title. Marcus was about to sponsor the next eldest sister Claire's season, but now all seem lost. Especially when the next guy to inherit is an obnoxious cousin and his shrewish grab-all-she-can wife. (Yes, the cast are all rented from The Stereotype Repertory Theatre.)

But to heck with being controlled by men, yes? Since Marcus spent all his life in Ceylon and he died there, and since only Gabby and a manservant know that Marcus is dead, well, why not just postpone his death announcement a while longer and enjoy the Season? Especially when in a stroke of luck, Marcus has arranged for lodgings, fund, etc for the three sisters before he croaked.

London, here comes the Bannings!

Imagine Gabby's shock when "Marcus" greets them at their London lodging. No, he's not Marcus, just a friend of Marcus who wants to avenge him, and his trail of the killer leads him to London. He isn't above masquerading as Marcus, and soon he and Gabby are locked in a standoff, unable to reveal each other's deception and unwilling to compromise.

Thing is, really, Gabby and "Marcus" are so steeped in their mistrust of the other for so long that I have a hard time buying the romance. A main part of this "romance" has "Marcus" injured and Gabby forced to keep him in one of the rooms in the house. Gee, I sure am suprised when I am then subjected to the "hero's sickbed delirious pawing" scenes!

It is so hard to be interested in a story where the only basis for attraction seems to that "Marcus" paws her like a brute and Gabby likes it a lot. There are no quiet moments, and I'm not even sure if Gabby knows who "Marcus" really is at the ending. Just the usual pawings and heavy pettings alternated with mistrust and temper tantrums (from her) or broody sulkings (from him). The bile doesn't elevate to the hate-boink-hate-boink levels of, say, Ms Robard's earlier works such as Island Magic, but it gets old fast.

The search for the killer gets the story moving from bedside foreplay at the later parts of the story, but even then, both parties don't seem interested in each other at all unless he has a hand up her skirt. I finish Scandalous giving those two a year at the most. There's no chemistry, no attraction, no development of emotions from the initial lust stage.

Scandalous will cater very well to audiences seeking a mistrust-lust-cycle romance that doesn't go overboard the way romances of the 1980s tend to do. Readers like me seeking deep emotional bonds between the hero and heroine may just be disappointed. At $7.99's worth of lackluster moments, I know I definitely am.

Rating: 65


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