Scandal Wears Satin
Avon / June 29, 2012 / $7.99
From the Journals of Sophia Noirot: A dress is a weapon. It must dazzle his eye, raise his temperature . . . and empty his purse.
A blue-eyed innocent on the outside and a shark on the inside, dressmaker Sophy Noirot could sell sand to Bedouins. Selling Maison Noirot’s beautiful designs to aristocratic ladies is a little harder, especially since a recent family scandal has made an enemy of one of society’s fashion leaders. Turning scandal to the shop’s advantage requires every iota of Sophy’s skills, leaving her little patience for a big, reckless rake like the Earl of Longmore. The gorgeous lummox can’t keep more than one idea in his head at a time, and his idea is taking off all of Sophy’s clothes.
But when Longmore’s sister, Noirot’s wealthiest, favorite customer, runs away, Sophy can’t let him bumble after her on his own. In hot pursuit with the one man who tempts her beyond reason, she finds desire has never slipped on so smoothly . . .
Ah, Loretta Chase! I eagerly look forward to every new book and in between reread the old ones. She is, arguably, one of the best romance writers going. I feel as if her manifold writing charms have been well-documented and extolled. What can I write about a Loretta Chase book that hasn’t already been said? Intriguing characters? Yeah, yeah. Compelling storyline? Yawn. Sexy hero? Whatever. Humorous prose and dialog? Laugh it up, Fuzzball.
You see my problem. But then I came across a bit in Scandal Wears Satin that made me go “huh! I didn’t know that!” and has stuck with me since, making me realize that there is another layer to Chase’s writing that is not often talked about, and that is the history she seamlessly packs into her novels, the sense of time and place her writing can evoke.
Sophy and Longmore are on a hasty road trip, chasing after Longmore’s sister Clara who has run away. They are hot on the trail in Richmond Park, outside London, when a nasty storm kicks up.
“Richmond Park,” Longmore said. He had to raise his voice to make himself heard over the wind and drumming rain. “What the devil’s there?”
“I read that Richmond Park was beautiful,” Sophy said.
“You think she’s gone sightseeing?”
“I hope so. It might calm her.”
He had to stop talking to negotiate the bridge. An old, narrow, uneven structure, it bulged up unexpectedly here and there. At this time of night, in this weather, the only way to proceed was cautiously.
Caution wasn’t Longmore’s favorite style. He was grinding his teeth by the time he got them safely to the other side of the Thames. Thence it was uphill to Putney Heath and the obelisk, about two miles away.
The horses trudged up the road while the rain went on thrashing them, torrents cascading from the hood’s rim. The wind, howling occasionally to add atmosphere to the experience, blew the wet under the hood. It dripped down Longmore’s face and into his neckcloth.
You can really feel the immediacy of Sophy and Longmore’s experience here. I can almost smell the rain, damp wool and clammy skin, feel the tension of crossing the Thames on a rickety bridge, buffeted by the howling wind. It’s a great piece of visceral writing.
The next day, their journey takes them to Hampton Court, which fascinates city girl Sophy for it…
“…sprawls over the countryside. It looks like a castle.”
“It’s one of the more decrepit ones,” Longmore said. “For ages none of our monarchs have wanted to live here. Not the present king. Not the last one or the one before. It’s bachelors and spinsters and war heroes’ widows…”
“Spinsters and widows?” Sophy said.
“In the grace and favor apartments,” he said. “Awarded to those who’ve served the Crown in some special way. Or whose fathers or husbands or brothers did. It’s mainly single women, mostly elderly. And I know why Clara came here.”
He hurried Sophy through the maze of passages toward the grace and favor apartment Lady Durwich had occupied for the last twenty-five years.
That was to say, he tried to hurry Sophy. She wanted to gawk at the quaint old turrets and such and peer down passages into the courtyard. It was like trying to lead a child along.
And here’s my “AHA!” moment. I’ve been to Hampton and could immediately identify with Sophy’s fascination. I’ve been awed by the sprawl, peered down those hallways, admired the Tudor chimneys - I felt like I was there again reading these passages. But I’d never heard of the “grace and favor apartments.” And don’t you just adore the name “grace and favor?” It stuck with me and sent me searching for more information. Did you know there are old retainers and pensioners still living in the grace and favor apartments at Hampton Palace? Fun.
And I have a new thing to love about Loretta Chase. She’s always been one of those authors who get the history right without slapping you in the face with it - I never have to worry about tripping across an incorrect title or wild anachronism while reading her books - but it goes beyond that. I get to learn new things and travel to new places. And how great is that?
Here’s a link to a website where you can learn more about the grace and favor apartments at Hampton Palace.
Cheryl Sneed reviews for Rakehell.com.