Romantic Times Bookclub awards 4 stars to Her Scandalous Affair. Their review says, "Hern steals readers' hearts with her delightful gambit and her charming amateur thieves. The touching climax and slowly igniting sensuality keep you turning the pages."
Romance Reviews Today says: "Superb characters, an entrancing romance, and a plot at once moving and amusing make Her Scandalous Affaira richly compelling novel. Highly recommended."
Nicole Hulst of Romance Junkies says: "I know when I pick up a Candice Hern book that I’m in for a fabulous read. Her characters have so much personality and allure that you can’t help but become engrossed. Her Scandalous Affair is a testament to her superb writing talent and is impossible to put down. Isabel and Richard are an enthralling and captivating couple. It is fascinating to see what lengths they each will go to in order to possess the brooch. The mystery of the Mallory Heart is hinted at throughout and while the truth is not completely a surprise, it is sweet and utterly satisfying. I highly recommend Her Scandalous Affair. It is definitely not to be missed."
From Chapter 2 ...
"Oh, Ned. Not again."
Isabel's younger half-brother had pulled her behind a large urn in the ballroom at Inchbald House. Damn him. She had other things on her mind this evening and would rather not deal with another of Ned's crises.
"It's just this one more time, Iz, I promise. And I'll pay you back as soon as I come round again."
"It's always just one more time with you," she said, wishing he had left this bit of news for another day. She shook her head and gave a little groan, for she was no match against those puppy-dog eyes. "I really cannot keep bailing you out of these scrapes, Ned. My circumstances are . . . not as secure as they might be."
Her brother grinned, knowing he'd won. "Come on, Iz, it ain't that much. And you’re my only hope, what with Mother in Italy and all."
Their mother was now the Contessa Giachetti. She had married the count, her third husband, a few years ago and had not returned to England since. Isabel wondered if she would return now that the wars were over. Not that she had ever provided much in the way of maternal support. She was the flightiest of women, but she was their mother.
"You won’t miss a measly hundred pounds," Ned said, completely oblivious to the fact that she would very much miss it.
She would have to find something else to sell to raise the cash. But Ned, with his loose tongue, was the last person in whom she would confide. In many ways he was as capricious as their mother. Without considering the consequences, without thinking at all, he would spread her secrets all over town before she could blink an eye.
"The way old Rupert flung his blunt around town," Ned said, "he's sure to have left you a bundle. Besides, I've seen Kettering sniffing about. You'll land yourself in another honey pot before long, I daresay."
"Hush, Ned." She looked round to be certain no one had heard. "Try not to spoil my chances by scaring the poor man away."
"Sorry, Iz. Only joking. Didn't know you was in serious pursuit."
"It's not serious. Yet. But I wish to keep my options open, if you please, so I would appreciate a bit of discretion. In fact, I shall demand it if you want me to help pay off your vowels. You will not have another sou if I hear you have been spreading tales about me. I will not have my name in the betting books, Ned."
"Of course. Lips sealed and all that." He nudged her in the ribs. "Would be a pretty feather in your cap, though, old girl, to snare Kettering. Rich as Croesus, they say."
She was well aware of Lord Kettering's prospects. Isabel had done her research. She could not afford to align herself again with a charming spendthrift. She knew who was plump in the pocket and who was mortgaged to his eyeballs. She knew who was overly fond of the gaming tables and whose estates reaped the best profits. Most important of all, she knew who were the ten richest unmarried men in England under the age of forty.
Lord Kettering was one of them. There were nine others, of course, but the young earl was the only one of the ten who was not painful to look upon. He also spent most of his time in Town and seemed to enjoy Society, which was important to Isabel.
She supposed that going after a rich, handsome, social husband made her shallow and selfish. But she loved moving in the highest circles of Society. She loved the glitter and glamour, the balls and parties, the theater and the Opera, music and dancing, the beautiful fashions and the dazzling jewels. She loved it all and always had.
Was it so wrong to enjoy the pleasures of Society and not wish to give them up?
"I will make myself scarce," Ned said, "and allow you to concentrate on drawing Kettering's attention. Shouldn't be too difficult. Stunning dress, Iz. You look quite beautiful, in fact."
She looked down and straightened her skirts, biting back a grin. This "stunning" dress had been remade from two older ones, altered beyond recognition with bits of lace and chenille from another dress used to create a deep flounce, the waist shortened, and the back made fuller in the latest mode. Thank goodness Isabel and her maid, Tessie, were both clever with a needle. In her straitened circumstances Isabel could no longer patronize the most fashionable modistes, but she could not bear to be anything less than stylish.
"Doing it too brown, my boy," she said to her brother. "I've already agreed to lend you the hundred pounds."
His hand gripped his chest in mock outrage. "No such thing, I assure you. Honestly, Iz, you do look very pretty."
"For a dried up old widow?" She smiled and touched his hand before he could pretend to object. At eight-and-twenty she would seem ancient to a boy almost seven years younger. "Ah, there is Phoebe. Run along, Ned. But stay away from the card room, I beg you. Drop by tomorrow afternoon and I will have your money."
"Thanks, Iz. You're a real sport." He kissed her on the cheek, grinned, and disappeared into the crowd.
A real sport, indeed. Isabel often wondered if she ought to stop bailing Ned out of trouble so he would learn to take responsibility for his actions. He was very young and would curb his enthusiasms soon enough. In the meantime, she hated to put a damper on his high spirits. If only those spirits weren't so expensive.
Isabel stepped in front of the urn and caught the eye of her friend Phoebe, Lady Challinor, who waved and made her way through the crowd.
"La! What a glorious squeeze." Phoebe stood close to Isabel's side and swept the room with her gaze. "Have you ever seen such a night? I heard, by the by, that the Burlington House ball is an utter bore and most of those attendees are beginning to arrive here."
"Lady Inchbald will be pleased."
"She will have an apoplexy if the Regent does not show up. And the new Duke of Wellington. She is counting on them, you know."
"But the Burlington House ball was in the duke's honor. Surely he cannot leave it so early."
Phoebe giggled. "Perhaps he will sneak away before anyone notices."
"It is difficult not to notice the duke. Or his nose."
Isabel glanced about the room to see if she could locate Lord Kettering. Her gaze landed on a group of new arrivals still gathered near the entrance to the ballroom. There were several officers in red coats, but no Lord Kettering. Her eyes were just about to move on to the next group when one of the soldiers turned around.
Her breath caught in her throat. Oh, my. He was tall and handsome, to be sure, with dark hair and features chiseled in the classical lines of Roman sculpture. But she had seen handsomer men. No, it was something else. The way he held himself, the way he moved — there was a sort of aura of command about him, and not just because he wore a scarlet coat and a chest full of gold braid. The room was full of red coats, but this man took in the room as though he owned it. His eyes raked the crowd in slow scrutiny as though insuring that everyone in attendance was worthy of his company.
"Phoebe," she whispered, "who is that officer near the door?"
There was no mistaking which officer she meant. Phoebe had noticed him, too, as had every other woman in the room, no doubt. "I have no idea," she said. "Let me see what I can discover."
She whispered in the ear of the woman at her other side, who shook her head and whispered to the women next to her. And so it went until the room was fairly abuzz with curiosity.
It took no more than a moment for the answer to make its way back to Phoebe. "He is Viscount Mallory, heir to the Earl of Dunstable and a major in the Dragoon Guards. He is unmarried and just returned from France." She gave a little sigh as she stared openly at him. "My, what a magnificent specimen. If it were not for his lamentable lack of fortune, I would recommend him to you as fine husband material, my dear. Very fine, indeed."
The tidbit about the viscount's prospects, or lack of them, was no news to Isabel. Her research had uncovered widespread rumors that the old earl's fortunes were at low ebb. And in any case, she had dismissed the absent heir as unavailable since his regiment was still in France. Now that he had returned, she could only lament those empty pockets. Even from across the room he had set off a certain stirring in her body she had not experienced in a very long time.
After all, financial security was not the only benefit of marriage.
Though Isabel kept to herself the particular requirements of her matrimonial quest, Phoebe did not need to be told that she was looking. She simply assumed, correctly for the most part, that every unmarried female was on the hunt for a husband. And no man without a fortune was worth consideration. For marriage, anyway.
"I could, of course, recommend him for something less formal," Phoebe said, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. "But then Lord Kettering might be put off. He is ever so proper, and you certainly do not want to put a spoke in that wheel. I, on the other hand, have no such impediment." She grinned wickedly.
"Except for Challinor."
Phoebe shrugged. "Yes, I suppose he might take it ill. I declare, sometimes it can be quite tiresome to have a husband so besotted. Poor Challinor, I — Isabel! The man is staring at you."
Isabel turned her head toward the door and her gaze collided with Lord Mallory's. Even halfway across the large room, the intensity of that look caused her skin to prickle and flush, and she almost forgot to breathe. He stared boldly at her for what seemed an eternity, then bent to speak to the woman at his side.
When Isabel was finally able to look away, she saw that it was Lady Althea Bradbury to whom he spoke, a woman she knew casually. She was the daughter of an earl but had outraged her family some years ago when she'd married a common soldier. He must be one of the other scarlet coats in their group. She looked toward Isabel and nodded.
"He is coming this way," Phoebe said in an excited whisper. "Good heavens, my dear, what a coup. Out of this entire company, that sublime creature has singled you out. How perfectly marvelous! Just look at the way he moves, how the crowd stirs in his wake. There is a certain air about him, don't you think? A hint of . . . what? Danger?"
"More than that, I think. Ooh, it fair gives me shivers just to watch him. I swear I cannot take my eyes off the man." She must have done so nevertheless for an instant later she said, "Dear me, there is Lord Kettering as well, coming this way. And Sir Henry Levenger trailing behind. I am fairly certain neither of them is coming to pay his respects to me." She reached for Isabel's arm and gave it a quick squeeze. "My goodness, this is your lucky night."
Isabel smiled and fingered the ruby heart pinned to the high waist of her dress, just below her bosom.
It was almost too easy.
This was his first evening in Town, and only his second social event, and yet Richard was fairly certain his quest was over. Unless he was mistaken, he'd found the Mallory Heart, though he would not know for sure until he got a closer look.
Richard gave a quiet sigh as he considered how short-lived this last adventure was to be.
Thank God for Lady Althea and her social connections. The wife of Colonel Bradbury, Richard's commanding officer, seemed to have a nodding acquaintance with just about everyone in the beau monde. She had guided him through the rather intimidating gathering of the nobility at the Burlington House ball. Richard had never rubbed elbows with such an elevated crowd in his life. But it had been his military rank and not his courtesy title of viscount that had granted him admission to that august company. Officers of every sort had seen their consequence rise in the wake of Toulouse, none more than cavalry officers such as Richard.
Althea, proudly wearing her war hero husband on her arm, had introduced Richard to scores of ladies. Most of them were of a certain age, with stately bosoms and plumed turbans, but none of them sported a large heart-shaped ruby. The crowd was so large, though, that there were surely scores of women he never even clapped eyes on. The task his grandmother had set him had seemed ridiculously daunting.
Until now. What a piece of luck that Althea had found the Burlington House crowd a bore and suggested that the Inchbald gathering might be more interesting. And so it was.
The large ruby brooch winked at him from beneath the elegant bosom of one of the loveliest ladies in the room. Lovely and proud and supremely confident. When he'd caught her eye — or, more precisely, when she'd caught him staring at her — she had returned his gaze with a frankly appraising look of her own. As he followed Lady Althea and Colonel Bradbury through the crowd, the woman watched his approach with a slight lift of her brows and the merest quirk at one corner of her mouth, as though his obvious interest both amused and intrigued her.
When they finally reached her, she had become part of a small group, including several other men whose interest was rather blatant. And no wonder. Upon closer inspection she was a real beauty. Not in the classical way, but beautiful nonetheless. Lord, how he had missed the fair-skinned women of England.
She was taller than most of the women around her, and slender, with a long neck accentuated by the upswept style of her hair. That hair was honey gold, lighter than it had appeared from across the room where he had thought it brown. But she had moved slightly so that she stood almost directly beneath a chandelier and the candlelight burnished the gold in her hair. Her eyes still held that hint of amusement, and he could not be entirely sure of their color. Not brown, but not quite green either. They seemed to be flecked with all sorts of colors. And her mouth. Egad, it was the most tempting feature of them all. It was a bit too wide for perfection, but the lips were full and sensual, and still quirked up into an intriguingly provocative smile, as though she was aware of every private thought in his head.
Or so she believed.
He casually dropped his gaze to the brooch at her breast, and was assured in an instant that it was indeed his family's missing jewel. It was an exact duplicate of the one he'd seen in all those portraits in the Long Gallery at Greyshott. The heart-shaped ruby was enormous and all those boldly sentimental bits — the piercing arrows, the crown, the lover's knot — gave it a very old-fashioned look. Richard was no expert on women's fashion, but he believed the heavy piece was not the sort of thing considered stylish. Yet somehow it looked just right on her.
He wondered how the devil this woman, who could not be much above five-and-twenty, came to have it in her possession. The dashed thing had been missing over fifty years.
"Good evening, Lady Weymouth," Althea said, addressing the ruby-wearer. "A lovely ball, is it not?"
"Indeed it is. A grand squeeze." She smiled more fully and it beamed across her face like a light held up to dazzle him.
"We have just come from Burlington House, and I will tell you in confidence that it was deadly dull. Already I can tell this ball will be much more entertaining. Oh, but you have not met my husband, have you?" She tugged Bradbury by the elbow and brought him closer to her side. "Colonel Bradbury. Joseph, this is Lady Weymouth."
"Your servant, my lady." Bradbury took her hand and kissed the air above it.
"I am pleased to meet you, Colonel. I hope you will not find it tedious to hear one more offer of congratulations, and heartfelt thanks, for routing that horrid little Corsican at last. You are great heroes to us, you know." Her glance flickered to Richard. "All of you."
"Thank you, Lady Weymouth," he said. "We are certainly happy to be home again, and at peace. Will you allow me to introduce a fellow officer? Major Lord Mallory."
She looked full at him, her greenish-brown eyes a bit wary, but still flickering with interest. "My lord," she said and offered her hand.
Richard took it, but did not kiss the air above it. He brought the silk-covered fingers to his lips, while one of his own fingers managed to find the opening of the glove at the underside of her wrist and touch the bare skin very briefly. Her eyes widened slightly at the presumption, and she discreetly retrieved her hand.
"Lady Weymouth," he said. "Your servant."
"And this is my friend, Lady Challinor," she said, indicating the dark-haired beauty who he'd only barely noticed at her side.
"Lady Challinor." Richard bowed, and did not reach for the lady's hand. Nor did she offer it.
"What an unusual brooch," Althea said, and he could have kissed her. "It looks quite old. A family heirloom?"
"Yes, it is," Lady Weymouth said, and touched the ruby with one gloved finger.
"It is a beautiful piece," Richard said, studying it once more. When he lifted his eyes again, hers were twinkling with mockery. She thought he was ogling her bosom, and of course he was. All in the line of duty. He decided to test her.
"It looks to be several hundred years old," he said. "It must have been in your family for a long time."
"Yes, it has" she said, "for ages and ages."
He watched her closely and saw not a flicker of discomposure. She was a very skillful liar.
"I envy you such a grand old jewel," Althea said. "And you wear it with such flair. You will bring the Elizabethan style back into vogue."
At that moment, one of the other gentlemen hovering nearby, a golden-haired good-looking chap, inched forward. "The next set is beginning," he said. "I believe it is mine, Lady Weymouth?"
"Of course, my lord," she said, and took his arm.
"May I be so bold," Richard said before she could take one step away, "as to hope you will honor me with the next free set?"
She lifted her brows, but said, "Of course, my lord. The second set after this one, if you please."
He bowed to her and she walked away with the fair-haired gallant. Another gentleman claimed Lady Challinor, and the others drifted away, leaving Richard alone with the Bradburys.
"She is quite lovely, is she not?" Althea said, her eyes dancing with merriment. She had been surprised and delighted when he'd asked for an introduction. All women must be born with a need to play matchmaker.
"Lady Challinor?" he said. "Yes, she is very beautiful."
Althea laughed and slapped her fan on his arm. "Lady Weymouth, you wretch. It was she who caught your eye all the way across the room. Was it love at first sight?"
Richard smiled at her. "Nothing like it. I was merely attracted by the enormous ruby at her breast." Which was quite true, of course, though the breast itself was attractive enough.
"Nonsense. I daresay it was her hazel eyes."
Ah, hazel. He'd wondered how to describe their color. Hazel certainly sounded prettier than greenish-brown.
"Leave the man alone, Althea," the colonel said, chuckling softly. "He can manage quite well on his own, I promise you. Though I suspect, Mallory, you had best steel yourself for the onslaught of female interest that a handsome unmarried officer is liable to generate just now. They think we're all heroes, you know."
"As you are," Althea said and gave her husband a warm smile, which he returned. She turned her attention to Richard and said, "Her husband was Sir Rupert Weymouth. The poor man died of a fever not quite two years ago. He was a dashing young fellow as I recall. They were seen everywhere. A very popular young couple."
Richard appreciated those details, though not for the reasons Althea would assume. He wondered if the jewel had come through the husband. Perhaps he would do a bit of probing into the affairs of the late Sir Rupert Weymouth.
"A widow, eh?" Bradbury gave him a wink over his wife's head.
During his years in the Peninsula, Richard had somehow always managed to find a beautiful Spanish or Portuguese woman to help wile away the long lonely days, and nights, between engagements. His commanding officer would therefore be astonished to learn that dalliance with the lovely widow Weymouth was not uppermost in Richard's mind. Not yet, at least. He needed to understand how she happened to be in possession of his family's jewel before he could seriously consider those intriguing eyes and that beguiling mouth.
"I confess I do not know her well," Althea continued, "but she is always pleasant and cheerful. And attractive enough to catch your eye across the length of a ballroom."
She was most definitely attractive enough, but it had not been her pretty face that had caught his eye.
"I thank you for the introduction," Richard said. "I look forward to our dance when I shall hope to get to know the lady better."
Much better indeed. He was determined to discover why she had lied about the Mallory Heart belonging to her family, and then he must contrive a way to return it to his family.
This last adventure might not be over so quickly after all. And it just might prove to be considerably more entertaining than he'd expected.
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