Almost a Scandal
St. Martin’s Press / July 31, 2012 / $7.99 print & digital
For generations, the Kents have served proudly with the British Royal Navy. So when her younger brother refuses to report for duty, Sally Kent slips into a uniform and takes his place—at least until he comes to his senses. Boldly climbing aboard the Audacious, Sally is as able-bodied as any sailor there. But one man is making her feel tantalizingly aware of the full-bodied woman beneath her navy blues…
Dedicated to his ship, sworn to his duty—and distractingly gorgeous—Lieutenant David Colyear sees through Sally’s charade, and he’s furious. But he must admit she’s the best midshipman on board—and a woman who tempts him like no other. With his own secrets to hide and his career at stake, Col agrees to keep her on. But can the passion they hide survive the perils of a battle at sea? Soon, their love and devotion will be put to the test…
In historical romances it’s usually pretty easy to love any chick-in-pants heroine. She’s working toward a noble cause, has a deep sense of self, and is nine times out of ten sassy as hell. This is no less the case with Almost a Scandal’s Sally Kent, who takes her brother’s place in the Navy after he ditches his family duty. Enter, almost immediately, Lieutenant David “Col” Colyear who has been a family friend and secretly (even to himself) in love with Sally since he vacationed with the family during school holidays.
In some ways, it would be easier to talk about how Almost a Scandal isn’t like the usual chick-in-pants books offered. It isn’t particularly funny, there isn’t any particular inner struggle on the part of the hero as he finds himself “unnaturally attracted” to a boy, mostly since he figures out relatively early on Sally’s identity, and in the end there’s very little scandal for the hero to save the heroine from. The strength in Elizabeth Essex’s Almost a Scandal lies squarely with her characters. Richard, Sally’s younger brother who only makes an appearance for a few brief paragraphs at the end of the book, was as fully developed in my mind as Sally or Col. Sally’s sister-in-law, who also only makes a brief appearance towards the end of the book, is both annoying in her cuteness and aweing in her stubbornness. At the end of the book, we’ve been through so much with Sally and she seems so dark and defeated next to her new, deceptively sharp, sister-in-law.
“…I mean, look at you. I’m sure you’re best viewed in candlelight.”
“Actually, morning light is best, as it brings out the contrast of my complexion and my hair. But that’s not important. The thing of it is, when my darling Owen goes back to sea—for I am quite convinced he will get a ship in no time—I will be desperately lonely. Desperately. I’ve waited all my life to find the one man whom I could love enough to make my husband. And I have done so. But he’s to go away, out to sea, and no one else in London will understand that loss. They will want me to go to parties and be gay, and not care about how he’s gone. They won’t understand. But Owen says you do. He says that you’re as used to it as anyone could be, from your family all going away all the time. So I thought I should like to be here with you.”
When I first read this, I wanted to yell at Sally’s sister-in-law as much as she did. I’m a fan of wallowing, and Sally needed a bit of that. Granted, wallowing really isn’t in Sally’s character, so it was best her sister-in-law’s sweetness doesn’t allow for it.
Sally is thrown into a man’s world, and somehow finds a balance between her two lives, Sarah Alice Kent, the neglected tomboy and as Richard Kent, the successful young midshipman. Unfortunately, in 1805 England, there is no place for a woman like Sally, and we feel each struggle against her boundaries.
My dad has a saying, “I would want him beside me in a dark alley,” usually referring to hulking men with mean looks. For me, I would want Sally on my side in any fight, physical or verbal. She wins over everyone with her cleverness (she “poisons” the crew bully with peppers), intelligence (she tutors said bully in an attempt to get him promoted and therefore off the ship), and bravery (she’s scrawny but that doesn’t stop her from taking on Spanish privateers). Sally thinks that a lot of these qualities came from donning her uniform like a suit of armor—impenetrable and inherent with power.
It wasn’t the first time Sally Kent had donned a worn, hand-me-down uniform from one of her brothers’ sea chests, but it was the first time it had felt so completely, perfectly right. She had always been tall and spare, strong for a girl, but dressed in the uniform of His Majesty’s Royal Navy, she felt more than strong. She felt powerful.
Powerful enough to ignore the voice of conscience thundering in her ear, telling her she needed to stay quietly on land and learn to be a young lady. Powerful enough to face down the potential scandal. Powerful enough to abandon her younger brother to his chosen fate.
Col’s sense of duty to the crown and cautiousness acts as a perfect foil to Sally’s sometimes reckless actions.
Damn their eyes. Wasn’t their situation bad enough already? What more could there possibly be to make it worse?
“Let me hear it, Kent.”
“It’s Mr. Gamage, sir. You can’t know what he is, although you ought to.”
How strange that she was so very much like him. How strange that of all people, she was the one who thought only she saw everything. “I am neither blind nor stupid, Kent. I know well what he is.”
She pulled back from the rail, her body stiff with indignation.
“If Mr. Gamage’s character is already known to you, why is he allowed to continue?”
He could only marvel at the picture she presented. Every inch of her face, her being, vibrated with affronted color at the thought of such purposeful wickedness. “Oh, Kent. So very righteous.”
“Have I no right to be affronted at Mr. Gamage’s tyranny?
And petty tyrants the likes of him are always the worst of the lot.”
“And so very sure of yourself, and your point. Things aren’t always as black- and- white as you are apt to think they are, Kent.”
She seemed to lose a small mea sure of her adamance at the fairness of that remark. Her lovely wide mouth turned down at the corners in wry agreement. But he wasn’t looking or thinking about her mouth, damn his wandering eyes.
In the end, Sally and Col’s story provides a heartfelt, fun adventure and Essex somehow plucked at every heartstring I had. I was swept away and fell as desperately in love with Sally and Col as they did with each other.
Jennifer Proffitt is a Midwest transplant to New York City. She spends most of her time reading and writing about romance, but you can follow her other adventures on Twitter @JennProffitt.