I had a good time with Do You Want to Start a Scandal, primarily because it does one of my favorite things by putting a good deal of emotional intelligence into a character who may not be expected to have it and then let them deduce the world around them. It is deployed to good use as Charlotte Highwood goes head-to-head with Diplomat turned Spy Piers Brandon, Lord Granville after they are caught together during the Parkhurst ball but are not in fact the couple who had a tryst in that very room.
Charlotte is determined to discover who really had the tryst in the library to avoid a loveless marriage to Piers as Charlotte is now supposed to call him, because he has done the honorable thing… but Charlotte doesn’t want that – it will only support the rumors following her time in London for the season and there is no way this would be a love match. In fact, Piers has assured her that he will never love anyone, including her. As the two weeks of the stay at the Parkhurst estate play out Charlotte chases her clues and while she strikes out on finding the lovers, she does discover there is more to Piers than one might expect of a stuffy diplomat. Charlotte unravels the mystery of Piers while he just unravels, unable to complete the task he was sent to the Parkhurst estate for in the first place because Charlotte throws off all his skills by becoming the primary focus of all his attentions. The quiet moments between the pair as she puts the pieces together and he cannot fathom how she has become the only person to get the truth out of him in years were great.
This is technically a Spindle Cove novel – Charlotte is the youngest Highwood, her sister Minerva featured in the earlier Spindle Cove book A Week to Be Wicked and Diana (who features in Beauty and the Blacksmith which I haven’t read) but it is never there, instead all action takes place at Parkhurst estate. Its also tangentially a Castles Ever After book, as Piers is the Marquess whom Clio breaks off her engagement with and marries his brother instead in Say Yes to the Marquess (I loved, love, loved the scene between Rafe and Charlotte in this!). Do You Want to Start a Scandal does show some of Dare’s usual go to tropes and structures, a Marriage of Convenience plot, smolder and steamy sexy times, sincere emotion on display, an emotionally wounded Hero who is smitten with the heroine are all on display here but what made this one stand out to me was that it is essentially a romance novel with mystery plot at its heart, something that I think I’d really like to read more of. Purportedly there’s also humor in this one, but the “MURDER!” plot moppet enraged me instead of making me laugh, so I’ll have to take others’ word for it. Tessa Dare has a lively way of telling romance stories that is uniquely her, and it continues to make me happy to settle in and read her books.