Rebelliously independent Lady Nicole Bragg Shelton refuses to be constrained by the stifling rules of Victorian England. Desire impels the beautiful heiress toward a shocking liaison with Hadrian Braxton-Lowell, Duke of Clayborough.
Obsessed by Nicole's daring conduct and sensuality but bound by the dictates of duty and honor to another woman, Hadrian resolves to have the raven haired beauty as his mistress...though never as his bride. But Nicole will be no man's plaything. She will risk pain and heartbreak to satisfy her wild, uncompromising passion-determined to win the handsome Duke's unwavering devotion...and his undying love.
Yowzaa! Check out Fabio ladies. Yeah, so I admit, he's partially the reason why I bought the book. :)The other is that I'm slowly making my way through Brenda Joyce's De Warenne Dynasty series. I keep the novels in my car so hence the many moons it takes me to complete one. This series transcends the ages from medieval times all the way to modern day. Joyce romances the high seas with devilish pirates to the mighty powers of British dukes. Her heroes are always on the extreme side of alpha that are paired with feisty and intelligent heroines that ignite their hero's blood and passion. Many are riddled with tons of historical fact and a reader truly feels she's within the time and place that Joyce pens. She is one of my absolute favorite historical romance authors and I'm so happy that I've barely even surpassed the foothills of her giant mountain of a backlist.
Hadrian Braxton-Lowell, the ninth Duke of Clayborough, is a man bound by duty and honor. After he and his mother suffered greatly at the hands of his abusive father, Hadrian swore that he would never allow himself to be similar to his sire in any way. Yet with his driving need to be proper, Hadrian has become somewhat tight fisted. He even acknowledges to himself that no one would like him if he wasn't the Duke of Clayborough for with that title comes great and exceptional power. Hadrian also feels duty bound to his fiancé, Elizabeth, with whom he's been engaged to since nearly her birth. While he adores her as a brother might of a younger sister, Hadrian feels no desire for his bride. But he is a duke and he will follow through with his commitments. Although fate, it seems, has another plan for him.
Nicole Bragg Shelton is no stranger to scandal and while her birth proclaims her a lady, no one else would believe it. After escaping the noose of a potentially dull marriage, society has shunned her to the country. Yet this couldn't bother Nicole in the slightest. Living like a wild ruffian, Nicole shamelessly rides her feisty stallion astride with men's breeches, no less. She'd much rather be galloping around with her father and brothers then being trussed up in a ball gown and having insipid conversation.
After Nicole's pride is pricked by some unsavory acquaintances, Nicole decides to attend the masque ball being held in honor of the Duke of Clayborough's arrival to his neighboring country estate. Nicole dresses as a gypsy, staying true to the nature of the costume she arrives with her long dark hair unbound and her feet left bare. Her scandalous ensemble garners the attention of the duke in quite the wrong way. He jumps to the conclusion that she's a widow looking for passion. With raging desire that cannot be denied, Hadrian invites Nicole to his home with the simple intentions of bedding her and then sending her on her way.
But things do not go as planned with Nicole's true unwed position being discovered by Hadrian while Nicole discovers that the man she's fallen in love with is actually engaged to be married. A physical altercation ensues with Nicole flaying Hadrian with a riding crop. The whole debacle then moves to London where once again it appears that Nicole is fodder for gossip and that her past scandal has not lost its appeal to society.
Both Nicole and Hadrian feel guilty for their flaming desire for one another because Elizabeth, Hadrian's fiancé and saint that she is, wants to see Nicole accepted by society and implores Hadrian to help put a stop to the gossip. Nicole truly begins to care for Elizabeth and sees her as a wonderful friend while Hadrian is pulling his hair out in wanting to stay clear of the temptation of Nicole but he also wants to please his bride.
When Elizabeth's strange and elusive illness claims her life both Nicole and Hadrian are bereft at the loss. Nicole, wanting to ease Hadrian's grief visits him unescorted. Hadrian, wishing to numb both his feelings for Nicole and his grief for Elizabeth, drinks himself into a haze and when comforted by Nicole, he takes her in a fit unbridled passion. When he comes to, he's need to be dutiful has him offering Nicole marriage. Nicole refuses. It's her belief that while she loves Hadrian; he's still in love with Elizabeth.
Hadrian, baffled by Nicole's refusal, decides to tell her father what transpired between him and Nicole. Somehow his feelings for Nicole have grown into something that prevents him from even trying to walk away from her. It's not just about duty, but the fact that he desires her as his wife. He's a little unprepared though for Nicole's wrath when she discovers that he's informed her father of their scandalous passion and she is now being forced by her parents to marry him. Dragging her feet every step of the way insights numerous battles and heated discussion yet neither can deny the passion and desire they still harbor for one another. When the vows are finally spoken and the duke whisks her back to his country estate the culmination of that transpired is fought out in the bedroom eliciting a night of ravaging desire. But these two are not out of the wood yet.
Nicole, glimpsing the love that may be had between them embarks on being a duchess but of course nothing is to go smoothly for the woman who instigates scandal just by breathing. The battle of wills once again erupts with Hadrian trying to force Nicole to bend to his iron will but she comes back fighting. Eventually Hadrian realizes that who Nicole is, scandal and all, is what has ignited his deep seeded love for her. But will his realization be too late?
Nicole was a very feisty and entertaining heroine. Some reviewers disliked her thinking her to be a whiner who chased after Hadrian incessantly. I loved Nicole though for her blatant tenacity. She's fiery and bold and while there were times that she acted immature, I believe it was more to do with the newness of her emotions. I loved when she went after Hadrian with her crop. She's not afraid to show her emotions to him especially when she's angry. I think she struck him about four times in the book but I thought they were all deserved. Nicole really had my inner feminist cheering for her time and again.
There was only one instance that had me frustrated with Nicole's stubbornness and that was at her wedding. Hadrian spent two weeks trying to quiet any vicious gossip over the truth of their marriage. She almost became ostracized over the fact that the duke was marrying her within weeks of Elizabeth's death. Hadrian plays the role of a love sick groom, stating that he just couldn't wait to marry his true love. Yet Nicole ruins his work when she blatantly shows her disapproval over having to marry him. Society then laughs at Hadrian for loving a woman who obviously doesn't love him which couldn't be further from the truth. Nicole soon sees the error to her ways but she almost took her stubbornness too far.
Hadrian was a perfect foil to Nicole's untamed spirit. He really needed some scandal to liven up his life. Nicole becomes the key to his freedom from the choke-hold of duty. And while of course being a man, Hadrian has trouble reconciling his intense feelings for Nicole; he soon accepts that she's the love he's unknowingly always wanted in his life.
Despite the vastness of the De Warenne Dynasty series, every book can easily be read as a standalone and 'Scandalous Love' is no exception. Brenda Joyce has a very extensive website featuring long excerpts and historical facts. I think I've already spent a few hours on her site; the woman seriously has that much material. You can visit Brenda Joyce here.