Feb 19 2013 9:30am

First Look: Ashlyn Macnamara’s A Most Scandalous Proposal (February 26, 2013)

A Most Scandalous Proposal by Ashlyn MacnamaraAshlyn Macnamara
A Most Scandalous Proposal
Random House / February 26, 2013 / $7.99 print & digital

At the age of two and twenty, Julia St. Claire is headed firmly and happily for the shelf. For years, she has watched her older sister pine for a man who barely acknowledges her. Determined to guard her heart against that sort of pain, Julia seeks nothing more than a civilized, sensible union. Then just such an arrangement is offered—by the man of her sister's dreams—and Julia must choose: betray her sister or turn to her childhood friend, Benedict at the risk of opening her heart.

Benedict Revelstoke has resigned his commission and returned to the social whirl of the ton, expecting to pick up his life where he left it: attending his club, gambling, and secretly loving Julia St. Claire. When he learns a rake has made her betrothal and reputation the object of a wager, he seeks to warn her. But when he betrays his feelings before the reticent Julia, he fears he has lost their longtime friendship-until she turns up at his townhouse with a scandalous proposal.

It’s always exciting to try a new author, so I was eager to check out Ashlyn Macnamara’s A Most Scandalous Proposal.  Though seemingly a traditional Regency historical romance, Macnamara has chosen to play with structure and plot elements in a way that I found both amusing and rewarding.  There are a number of hints throughout that Macnamara had an homage to Sense and Sensibility in mind, most notably in the basic personality types of the two sisters, but in other, smaller ways as well (including a cameo appearance by the actual Austen novel). Macnamara gives it all her own twists and turns, and sets her version in the affluent environs of Regency London.

The heroine of A Most Scandalous Proposal is Julia St. Claire. But her strong relationship with her sister, Sophia, is reflected in how much of Sophia’s romance also takes place on the page; they’re tied together irrevocably because both sisters’ romantic relationships are entangled with the villainous Ludlowe.

Julia’s story is for fans of both friends-to-lovers and Marriage of Convenience, while Sophia’s story is more of an Engagement of Convenience…at first. Benedict Revelstoke, who is in love with Julia, is a younger son and former soldier with a love of horses. Rufus, the Earl of Highgate, had a disastrous first marriage that ended in tragedy, for which he partially blames himself. But he is not totally against a second marriage when he and Sophia end up being compromised (despite never having met before). Both men share a strong moral sense with protectiveness, and both want to defend against Ludlowe’s machinations.

Julia has reasons to fear falling in love. She has known Benedict since childhood, but it’s only recently that she’s become aware of her feelings changing, and tries to fight against it, not knowing that Benedict’s feelings are in turmoil as well.

He guided her through the steps of the dance with practiced ease until she felt as if she were hovering several inches above the floor. This was not dancing; it was floating. On every turn, her stomach tripped over itself. It was nothing more than a waltz. Meaningless. The buoyancy that lifted her heels on every step had nothing to do with the hand planted at her waist, the fingers flexing into every pivot…She should not allow herself to think of such things. This was Benedict, steady and dependable, not one of her suitors.

…Suppressing a sigh, she tried again. “I had no idea you danced so well. How is it we’ve never waltzed before?”

He winked. “You’ve never twisted my arm into it before.”

“I twisted? As I recall, this was your idea.”

“Perhaps I ought to have ideas a bit more often.” His words slipped out easily. For a moment, Julia was dumbfounded. That sounded rather roguish.

“Who are you practicing for?”

“I beg your pardon?”

”You’re practicing your flirting on me.” Once again, she tapped him with her fan. “I shall not allow it unless you confess immediately who you intend to pursue.”

Meanwhile, Sophia first meets her future romantic partner by accident—or so she thinks. Their obvious differences in age and personality make their growing relationship interesting to watch develop, and a nice contrast to Julia and Benedict, who know each other so well.

I’m not about to faint again, if that’s what you’re hoping,” [Sophia] replied, unable to keep the tartness out of her tone…“Goodness only knows what might happen next.”

One heavy eyebrow arched above his left eye. “At my age? A young miss like you?”

At his age, indeed. She could not recall any gossip pinning a precise age on him, but he had to be closer to forty than thirty. Yet his gaze traveled over her figure in slow appraisal. A blush raced back to her cheeks. Had she thought him kind? She would not make that mistake twice.

I really enjoyed the novel and am looking forward to Macnamara’s next one, currently scheduled for August 2013.

Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories. Her World War One-set Spice Brief is titled “Under Her Uniform” and is a tie-in to her novel The Moonlight Mistress. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.

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