Lord Atherton wasn’t a character painted with the kindest brush in Caroline Linden’s last book. When we met Benedict in It Takes a Scandal, we knew him as Sebastian’s former best friend; the man who turned his back on Sebastian and then tried to court Abigail, the woman his friend loved. Ben is handsome, charming, and heir to an earldom, but Abigail’s sister Penelope refuses to ignore all the wrongs he has done. Why didn’t he defend Sebastian all those years ago? Why did he pursue her sister, when he clearly never loved her?
The short answer? He has daddy issues. Ben’s father has terrorized him his entire life. Marriage to a woman with a sizable dowry will finally give him the freedom to get out from under the earl’s thumb. He just wants a kind, easygoing woman who he could share a peaceful life with. Penelope is anything but that. She is bold, loyal, and fiery. He can’t even allow himself to think of wanting her.
Despite all of their protestations and superficial discord, there is a deep frisson of attraction between these two. So when circumstances force them to wed, they work to put away their differences and make a real go of it. But that means unveiling some painful truths and trusting each other; Ben, with sharing the secrets of his family, and Pen, with revealing her true feelings for the man she claimed to hate.
I felt like the story got off to a little bit of a slow start. Penelope comes off as a little shrewish at the beginning. The way she constantly drills into Ben and harps on him feels a bit much. Maybe it’s because we know the truth about his feelings and intentions. It doesn’t help that at least part of it comes from a place of jealousy that he didn’t pursue her. I didn’t dislike her, necessarily. I do appreciate a woman who can hold her ground and speak her mind, but when her ire is pointed at Ben, it’s a little less enjoyable. (She does mature over time, though.)
As for our hero, he’s not the strongest man. I do understand his history and his dad really put him through it, but it’s hard to watch how cowed he is, still, after all this time. Once Ben and Penelope finally do get together, both characters improve. Their attraction to each other is palpable, but it’s almost like a switch is flipped from “off” to “on” without a gradual build. The do have an undeniable spark, and they fill something essential in one another. I liked the validation they give one another, and by the end of the story, I definitely believed in the romance.
As far as the danger plot, it kept the story moving, but much of it is left open ended. I guess the questions will be answered in the next book. But Penelope’s life and safety are threatened for reasons we never understand. That’s kind of frustrating. The conflict with Ben’s dad also wraps up rather abruptly. But as a reader of the previous book, I’ll give credit to Caroline Linden for providing more resolution in the relationship between Ben and Sebastian.
Overall, this was not my favorite from Linden. It’s not a bad read, but I didn’t love either main character and didn’t feel overly invested in either of them. They both grew over the course of the book and I liked them together, but I have read more engaging stories from this author.
*ARC provided by Avon
Click to purchase: Amazon
Love in the Time of Scandal
by Caroline Linden
Release Date: April 28, 2015