Jessica Trent is a determined bluestocking spinster with a keen eye and deep appreciation for antiques. She has a keen knack for recognizing the underlying beauty in things. Jessica doesn't believe she needs to marry or rely on any man for her well-being, and would someday like to open her own antiques shop. She travels to Paris with the soul intention of rescuing her dim-witted younger brother from utter ruin. He has been keeping company with Sebastian Ballister, the Marquess of Dain, who is so notorious for his debauchery that everyone who knows of him thinks he's the devil himself. What no one knows though is that Dain's horrible behavior is merely his way of drowning out the pain of the past. He was abandoned by his mother, reviled by his father, and was mercilessly teased and tormented for his unusual size and unattractive looks. Women have always avoided him, and he's never been able to get any woman that he didn't pay for and dearly.
Dain also has an interest in fine antiquities, and he and Jessica chance to meet in an antiques store in Paris. There is an immediate attraction between them, but they both initially brush it off. She is still annoyed with him for corrupting her brother, and he wouldn't dare to believe that a woman of her beauty would ever want him. Jessica purchases a nearly priceless icon for a mere pittance from right under Dain's nose, which irritates him when he finds out it's true value. Dain wishes to buy the icon from Jessica, so they meet at a cafe to try to make a deal. When Jessica refuses his offer, he threatens to ruin her reputation right then and there. She boldly dares him to try and deftly turns the tables on him when he does.
Not long after, they share a passionate kiss in the rain which leaves them both shaken. Jessica's grandmother, a bold, independent woman herself, counsels Jessica to pursue Dain as a husband, but Jessica is skeptical that anyone can win Dain's heart. She is just about to leave Paris when an invitation to a ball arrives. She accepts and of course, Dain attends too. During the course of the evening, they escape to the garden, where they share another even more steamy encounter, which unfortunately is witnessed by half the partygoers, who have placed bets on whether they will become a couple. Now with her reputation truly in tatters, Jessica expects Dain to do the noble thing and propose marriage, but instead he walks off thinking that she engineered the entire scene just to mock him. Jessica is left to take matters into her own hands, and must take extreme measures to get this rogue to marry her, then make love to her, and ultimately believe that she is madly in love with him. Her job won't be easy though, when a couple of unsavory characters surface to stir up trouble, and Dain must come face to face with his painful past.
I absolutely loved Lord of Scoundrels. This was my first reading of a Loretta Chase novel, and I will definitely be seeking out other books written by her in the future. Jessica was an extraordinary heroine who had a near perfection that one does not often find in a romance novel. Independent heroines can often become irritating to me, but Jessica was a thorough delight, a wonderful mix of charm, wit, strength, and heartfelt devotion. In spite of his utterly debauched nature early on, I still found Dain to be a completely sympathetic hero. I thought it was really sweet that Dain could be so worldly and yet so insecure as to be reluctant to bed his new bride. I also loved the vulnerability he showed when he really started opening up to Jess. Jessica's grandmother, Genevieve, was a delightful secondary character who was full of wit and charm herself. The settings and characterizations were very well drawn, and the pacing was wonderful. Lord of Scoundrels is the third book in the Scoundrels series, and introduces us to Vere Mallory, the Duke of Ainswood, who becomes the hero of book #4, The Last Hellion. Comte d'Esmond, who is the hero of book #2, Captives of the Night also plays a small secondary role. I believe that Captives of the Night and Lord of Scoundrels basically take place simultaneously, but Captives of the Night was written first. The first book of the series is The Lion's Daughter. I found Lord of Scoundrels to be a thoroughly enjoyable book, that has definitely earned a place on my keeper shelf.
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