Sometimes, there comes a story that seems to find no way to redeem itself to end in a happily ever after for the hero and heroine. They face insurmountable odds within each other, between them, and due to outside events. Carrie Lofty's Scoundrel's Kiss is one such book.
The story opens with Ada of Keyworth willing to enslave herself for one more dose of opium. Gavriel de Marqueda, a novitiate of the Order of Santiago and former hated slave of his father, is charged with saving her life and ridding her of her dependence on the drug. While Ada wishes for what she should not have, while Gavriel does not know how to wish for what he cannot have.
Both are so damaged that overcoming their own demons seems to be out of their hands. The keyword here is seems, because not only do they do that, but they also manage to defeat the problems standing between them and beyond them.
Love happens to them by degrees, as first one and then the other leans on the other for succor through rough times. He fights for her as she fights him during her harsh withdrawal from the drug; similarly, she initiates and continues to push him not to hurt himself in his mistaken notion of cleansing his thoughts through bodily pain.
Through this mutual experience, they become, by infinitesimal degrees, better people, because each knows that they can rely on the other. When danger presents itself, they band together to face it time and time again. Tentative bonds of trust are forged. In the beginning, these bonds are like skeins of wool rather than of threads of steel: easily broken and then mended again with difficulty, but also perseverance. Trust gives way to warmer feelings, which in turn engender more trust and belief in the other person's words and actions. It is through this complex scaffolding that love unfurls.
The stirring moment of love where they declare their intentions to each other also arrives at the darkest moment in their lives, courtesy of Gavriel's cruel father. Da Silva uses a corrupt law and justice system to bring charges against Ada for defaulting on her opium debts, breaking the contract of her own sale by running away, and an unsupported charge of inciting a riot. Even though Ada's patroness Her Excellency Doña Valedrona pardons all the charges against her, the unscrupulous judge finds her nominally guilty and decrees that she has to stand trial by combat.
“Judge Natalez,” Gavriel said, his tempter threatening to burst through his skin. She is a woman. Trial by combat is no just gauge of guilt. The measure is too harsh.“
”I deem it appropriate,“ said Natalez. ”Be thankful that, considering the evidence against her, I do not declare her guilty this moment.“ […]
Gavriel inhaled. ”Then I claim the right to take her place.“
”Right? What right?“ Natalez frowned.
”She is my wife.“
Ada inhaled sharply.
”What proof do you have?“ Natalez shouted.
Threatened as they were by unknown forces, Gavriel set aside caution. Ada eased hurts that had been so much a part of him, like bones and blood and breath.
”What proof is needed?“ Gavriel asked. ”We're both Christian, having lived on the edge of the reconquista frontier where neither banns nor priest are required.“
Natalez's rumbling voice asked, ”What say you?“
Ada turned to the hundreds of people in the courtyard. ”Yes,“ she said. ”He is my husband."
Natalez is furious, because he feels he's being made a fool of and his court is being mocked. So he allows his decree of trial by combat at midday the next day to stand. See this adamant stance, Gavriel realizes that the judgment could only have been bought, and only by his father.
He could only wait and hope that Ada was safe, at least until the following midday. But what would he do then? He could not think of her pain without suffering himself.
Gavriel despairs of coming up with a way to spare her the combat the next day and the pain sure to follow and the fears she's suffering at this moment all by herself in a dark cell.
His stomach tensed against the knowledge that he had failed her. He should've fought to his last breath, chancing that the hundreds of people in the square would rally to their cause.
And it is in this castigation that he finds his salvation: What he would do for the woman he loves beyond life itself.
Keira Soleore is an aspiring Medieval & Regency historical romance writer and the comments moderator for IASPR’s Journal of Popular Romance Studies. On the web, she can found at Cogitations & Meditations, on her website, and on Facebook. She also tweets.