The Earl of Banallt is no stranger to scandal. But when he meets Sohpie Evans, the young wife of a fellow libertine, even he is shocked by his reaction. This unconventional and intelligent woman proves to be far more than an amusing distraction - she threatens to drive him to distraction. Unlike the women who usually fall at Banallt's feet, and into his bed, Sophie refuses to be seduced. And soon Banallt desires her more than ever - and for more than an illicit affair.
Years later, the widowed Sohpie is free, and Banallt is determined to win the woman he still loves. Unfortunately, she doesn't believe his declaration of love and chivalrous offer of marriage - her heart has already been broken by her scoundrel of a husband. And yet, Sophie is tempted to indulge in the torrid affair she's always fantasized about. Caught between her logical mind and her long-denied desire, Sohpie must thwart Banallt's seduction - or risk being consumed by the one man she should avoid at all costs...
Joey W. Hill paints the most stunningly detailed visions with her prose and Megan Hart's writing is raw and real in it's simplicity while Carolyn Jewel captures the complexity of human emotions. All three of these authors have made it onto my Top Reads of 2009 and if this is any indication of how the year will play out than I'm looking forward to a lot of fabulous and compelling reads.
'Scandal' snared my attention back in November with a spectacularly intense first chapter excerpt. Jewel encapsulates the root conflict of the novel in an intense and passionate opening first line:
The first thing Gwilym, earl of Banallt noticed when he rounded the driveway was Sophie perched on the ledge of a low fountain. Surely he thought, some other explanation existed for the hard, slow thud of his heart against his ribs. After all, he hadn't seen her in well over a year. Nearly two years, and they had not parted on the best of terms. He ought to be over her by now. And yet the jolt of seeing her again shot straight through to his soul.
Essentially a reformed rake story,'Scandal' is formatted with bits of the past interspersed throughout the present showcasing the tenable friendship that Sophie and Banallt shared, plus his irreproachable attempts to seduce her.
Once an infamous rake, libertine, and fellow ne'er do with Sohpie's husband, Tommy Evans, and whose name is synonymous with scandal, the Earl of Banallt is now a changed man; the catalyst - his love for Sohpie. Despite the fact that their final moment together didn't end well, Banallt, compelled by his love, asks Sohpie's hand in marriage. Her answer though must be no. Finally free of heartache and regret, Sohpie is not about to allow herself to once again be shackled to a man who has no intention of ever being faithful. While his claim to care for her may seem sincere, a rake like Banallt, who is constantly proceeded by rumor and scandal, couldn't possibly ever come to love plain Sohpie Evans.
Sohpie is a survivor. As a young and naive girl of seventeen, she ran off and eloped with a man she believed was as much in love with her as she with him. Turns out that what Mr. Evans loved was that which followed Sohpie's name - heiress. Unfortunately once the wedding was consummated, Tommy Evans took Sohpie's sizable dowry and ran off to London. Heartbroken and alone, Sophie makes friends with the characters in her head and spends most of her days writing fanciful stories.
Enter the man of her fantasies.
As a child, Sophie spun wondrous tales about the Earl of Banallt and his magical castle in her home town of Duke's Head. But one night, far away from home and her childish dreams, Sophie comes face to face with Banallt but he is far from being the prince she imagined. Drunk from a night out carousing with her husband, Sophie meets Banallt for the first time when he arrives at her home with Tommy and draped upon his arm is a woman of a questionable reputation. Struck by that first encounter, Banallt embarks on his immediate seduction of Sophie only to be slapped in the face. Having never been told no, Banallt's interest in Sophie takes a firm hold. Yet from this initial interest stems intrigue than fascination and eventually respect. Banallt and Sophie, although fragile, establish trust and Sophie begins to see Banallt as a friend. But that trust is soon tested and broken by a means that isn't immediately disclosed to the reader, and whereby Banallt leaves for Paris. After which, Sophie's world falls apart with the sudden death of her husband and the loss of her home to pay back the huge debt incurred by him. In Duke's Head once again, Sophie vows to herself to never be beholden to a man who has no intention of ever loving her.
Although Sophie turned down Banallt's initial marriage offer, she once again extends her hand in friendship. And as trust is reaffirmed, Sophie finds herself falling once again under Banallt's friendly, yet intense, attention. When fate leaves her destitute once again, Sophie's only recourse is to marry the Earl of Banallt.
While 'Scandal' by no means was perfect, I still loved every word of it. Jewel takes some immense risk in the novel by bringing her heroine down to the lowest of the low but I feel that this worked well for Sohpie and her inherent nature. Having been burned to atrociously by love, the walls around her heart are thick and well fortified. The only true way that she would ever accept Banallt would be if those walls crashed into heaps of rubble and that would take quite a force.
Meanwhile, Banallt made me pant and my heart flutter. His charisma and magnitisim was painted so realistically that I thought he might walk right off the pages. The love scenes, while not overly graphic were still hot and I loved the intense emotion associated with each experience. Banallt was definitely a drool worthy hero.
I also loved how Banallt didn't beg and plead for Sohpie to acknowledge his reformation. In all honesty she really couldn't for even right up till the end his name was still glued to scandal but he never once argues his case in this matter. Instead he shows his changes through his actions. And as other high ranking members of the peerage whisper his loss of wickedness, the impact is so much more real and intense. Yet even with these examples Sophie still guards her heart from Banallt. In some respects this was frustrating for I trusted Banallt and I wanted the heroine to do so sooner as well but you had to admire her tenacity. She didn't make anything easy on Banallt but than again he didn't deserve easy.
Yes, there are a lot of insipid historical romances out there today, but if your looking for something that packs an intense emotional punch, give 'Scandal' a read. Carolyn Jewel is definitely an author to watch.
Interested in 'Scandal'? Visit Carolyn Jewel for more details.
Also check out a sneak peek of Carolyn Jewel's next historical, 'Indiscreet'.