Saturday 28 November 2015

#CBR7 Book 123: "Scandal Takes the Stage" by Eva Leigh

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Margaret "Maggie" Delamere makes a comfortable living as the popular playwright of the most successful burlettas (because the theatre doesn't have an official licence, every line of all the plays has to be sung by the actors) at the Imperial theatre. In the past, she's never had any problems getting new ideas or getting her plays finished on time. Now, with the Imperial's board of directors and the audience clamouring for the sequel to her most popular play yet, Maggie is suffering from a terrible writer's block. The board can't wait too much longer for a new play, and unless Maggie can produce the sequel soon, they're threatening to replace her with another writer. Maggie wouldn't just lose her job, but have to leave the place she considers home and the people she considers her family.

Cameron Chalton, Viscount Marwood, is an unashamed libertine and rake, quite happy with the idea of his stuffy and proper younger brother's offspring eventually inheriting the title. Marwood certainly has no intention of growing respectable and tying the knot. Of course, now that his good friend and former carousing buddy, the Earl of Ashford, has settled down into matrimony, Cameron's father is more insistent than ever that Marwood also remember his duties. The constant partying isn't as much fun without Ashford either.

 Cameron's true passion isn't for wine or women, though, although it does involve song. Marwood loves theatre of all kinds, and he's absolutely mad for Mrs. Delamere's burlettas at the Imperial, spending part of nearly every evening in his private box watching the performances. When he discovers that Mrs. Delamere may be replaced by the board of directors, he vows to do anything he can to help her.

Maggie made the mistake of dallying with a nobleman once in her youth and it ended badly. She has no intention of falling for another peer of the realm, not even one as sinfully charming and handsome as Viscount Marwood. When he not only promises to fund the theatre to give her time to complete her new play, but offers the privacy of his country estate as a writing retreat, she'd be a fool to refuse. Maggie knows the rakish viscount will probably try to seduce her, but realises that she wouldn't mind all that much if he did. Cameron genuinely tries his best to give Maggie her space, but can't get her out of his mind. There are tenants to visit and a neglected estate to oversee. If that brings him into company with the most stimulating woman he's ever met, what's Marwood to do?

I was pleasantly surprised by Forever Your Earl, and found myself liking Scandal Takes the Stage even more. As in her previous novel, Eva Leigh acknowledges that a romantic liaison between a high-ranking peer and a woman of common birth most likely would be brief, and unlikely to end happily for the woman. Anything permanent would be viewed as shocking and inappropriate. As Marwood is quite happy to flout conventions and his responsibilities, with plans to let his brother's family take over the title, he's not going to let public opinion keep him from Maggie, once he decides that she's the woman he wants. Clearly more comfortable among artists, bohemians and those of looser morals, Cameron fits well with Maggie's "found family", her theatre friends.

Maggie has pain and heartache in her past, and was disowned by her family after being seduced by a careless nobleman. Left destitute, she has been taking care of herself for a long time, working hard to gain the relative respectability she now has. She doesn't want to throw that away for a brief affair, even with someone as tempting as Marwood.

After her's best friend became the Countess of Ashford, Maggie's come into contact with Marwood a few times. She is surprised when he genuinely seems interested in her work and soon discovers that he's more or less memorised all her plays. It is extremely difficult for her to approach him for help when her livelihood is at stake. She's quite prepared to offer herself up as "re-payment", but Cameron isn't interested in forcing women. He only wants her if she comes to him willingly, without obligation. That doesn't mean that he doesn't intend to tempt her, of course. Once Maggie arrives at his estate, she discovers that all her needs have been anticipated and prepared for. Being cared for and pampered after having to take care of herself since she was a fairly young girl may prove more seductive than Maggie could imagine.

This book has a slow build-up and tons of unresolved sexual tension. The relationship builds gradually and slowly, but I found it all the more satisfying because of it. For people who like that sort of thing, Ms. Leigh has revealed on her Facebook page that her inspirations for Cameron and Maggie were Aiden Turner and Kat Dennings. The next book in the series is going to feature Cameron's cousin, a village Vicar (he has a couple of scenes in this book), modelled on Tom Hiddleston. Let's just say that Eva Leigh is very close to becoming one of my auto-buy authors.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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