My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Lady Scandal is the second book in Wendy LaCapra’s Historical Romance the Furies series. I really enjoyed the first book and was eagerly awaiting for this one, and I’m happy to report that it didn’t disappoint! The Furies series is fraught with intrigue, scandal, murder and many of the dark sides of Georgian London.
In Greek and Roman mythology, the Furies were female spirits of justice and vengeance. In this series, they are a group of 3 ladies, widowed and married yet estranged from their husbands, both; who have formed an unlikely friendship and are sworn to protect each-other. So in a way, they do resemble the Furies of the myth. These ladies have fallen on hard times due to some injustice done to them, yet resolving to earn their living. And for that, they can’t afford to play by the rules. The Furies, Lavinia or Lady Vaile, Lady Sophia Beneham and the Duchess of Wynchester, Thea, have put all their resources together to earn their living by opening a gambling club, where they go by as Lady Vice, Lady Scandal and Duchess Decadence. The events are hosted at Lady Sophia’s grand estate. In time, the club gained enough popularity with the rakes and gentlemen of the Ton alike, giving the ladies a strong financial backbone, though not without a scandalous reputation.
In book 1, Lady Vice, we were introduced to Lavinia and her current state of estrangement from her husband Lord Vaile. She had a horrid marriage mired in shameful secrets, both things about her husband and the stuff she was forced to do by him, and Lord Montechurch, Vaile’s inseparable companion. Montechurch was also the person who controlled him thoroughly. Lavinia was but a puppet in their hands. When she left Vaile finally to regain some of her sanity, Lavinia threatened him with life, should he pursue her any longer. Unfortunately, when Vaile is murdered in his bed, had it not been for her first love, Max Harrison, she’d be the one charged for it. Harrison used to be a judge in Calcutta, working on behalf of the East India Company. He also had his shares of nightmares from India that still haunts him to this day. When he and Lavinia parted, it wasn’t on good terms but definitely not because they wanted to break up. Lavinia’s father was the one who made it so and a misunderstanding led her to believe that Max never loved or cared for her. Just how wrong she was, Lavinia soon finds out as Max steps in as soon as the news broke, not only to protect her from the threats on her life but also to fight on behalf of her against the murder accusation. Bit by bit, he also starts working to make her believe that he still wants her, have always wanted only her and no one else. And that he wants her back. Lavinia, burnt first by the love of her life (Max), then by her sad excuse for a marriage, wasn’t easy to convince. But when she finally gives in, it was just wonderful to read them come together for a second chance.
In the course of the story, we’re introduced to Lord Randall, a rake and a gambler, a frequenter of their parties, who seemed to be quite amorous of Sophia, just as she was taken by the handsome Earl. Everybody was waiting to see where this relationship was going. On the other hand, there was Thea, who had left Wynchester months ago, reasons yet to be revealed. They fight passionately, she convinced never to return to him again, yet we find them in a passionate embrace at the course of the story, proving that the spark hasn’t gone out of their marriage. Not even a bit.
And then, there was the biggest revelation. The man of Max’s nightmare from India, who tortured and imprisoned him for several months alongside some other fellow British men, Kasai (or ‘butcher’) seems to have landed on British soil. Not only that, Randall, who turns out to be a spy for the crown, who also was helping Max secretly on Vaile’s murder case, helps reveal that Eustace, the heir to the Wynchester Dukedom, hasn’t been murdered by Kasai as was known before. He’s here, in flesh and blood and apparently working for Kasai when Max and Randall spy on him with Kasai’s men. This can only mean something really bad, as whoever knows Kasai, knows that that man is greedy and power hungry.
When a wager is lost and Sophia finally marries Randall as a result, we’re left to contemplate on various issues regarding her marriage and sudden dissatisfaction, exactly why she despised her father’s name so much, Thea’s own plans for her marriage and feelings for her estranged husband... and last but not the least, who is Kasai and what the hell does he want here in Britain.
TBH, the whole of Sophia’s background seemed a little vague to me. Initially I thought Beneham was her probably deceased husband and the money she inherited was due to her status as the widow of a peer. But in her own book, I was disabused of the idea. She was the one took Thea and Lavinia in when they had nowhere to turn to. She was the one who sponsored the gamblings, which was also her idea to support themselves so that they’re not beholden to anyone for anything. Sophia was also the most levelheaded of the bunch, with Lavinia being the most sensitive and Thea being rather suspicious of men as a whole. I liked her a lot because she was smart and intelligent, also proved that she cared for her fellow Furies more than anything else in the world. Her relationship with Randall was also vague. At first, it seemed it’s going to be an affair between two people very attracted to each-other. Sophia seemed to be amenable to Randall’s rakish charm, though she told no one the extent of their attraction or whatever was going on between them. And when she marries Randall all of a sudden, then seems to be displeased, it did strike odd.
When Vaile’s murderer is finally captured, and Max and Lavinia is reunited, Sophia is happy for them but she’d just realized that she herself is in mortal danger and her new husband might be the source of it! The story starts right where book 1 left off, so it’s a direct continuation. I’d rather that you read book 1 before proceeding to understand the whole situation. Sophia knew Randall would soon be here to ‘claim’ her as his wife, so she plans an escape to get away from him. Because no matter she’s hurt by Randall’s betrayal (as she deems it), Sophia is not giving up so easily. She makes Thea and Lavinia promise not to divulge her whereabouts to him and sets off for a place unknown… After all, she’s Earl of Beneham’s daughter; the Ruthless, the cold and calculated schemer for the East India company who has become a legend of sort since his demise (murder more likely) 3 yrs. ago.
Earl Beneham inspired greed and hunger for power and money, the extent is so extreme that it left bad taste in Sophia’s mouth. Yes she despises her own father for his lifestyle and the things he’d done, the equally ruthless men he’d trained to carry out his missions. It was because of him that Sophia’s first husband was killed in a duel. He was also the reason why her mother pined away and then succumbed to a broken heart as her husband never returned her affections. Sophia hatred runs so deep that she refuses to even acknowledge Beneham as her father, however legitimate she was; so much so that the moment she finds out that Randall is one trained by him and lived by Earl Beneham’s ruthless ‘rules’, she knew her marriage was doomed. It was probably over even before it had begun.
When the story begins, we find Sophia has already escaped before Randall could get to her. He was, at that time, dealing with the latest mess of his spy work that included catching Vaile’s murderer. A female spy, a prostitute, who was working for him has just betrayed him and escaped with valuable documents with one of Kasai’s men. Randall is still shaken from the betrayal and the thoughts of its impending result when he finds his wife has dumped him. Thea and Lavinia won’t tell anything but Randall isn’t giving up either. He’s bone weary from rigorous schedule and nightlong vigils, yet he needs to find Sophia ASAP because right now, he’s pretty sure Kasai is coming for her. He knows of a secret, that I assumed Sophia didn’t, that’s enough to run a chill down Randall’s spine. Sophia is somewhere unknown, unprotected and right now, he can’t do a thing about it. Unless, her friends gives him something to begin with.
It was rather easy to ‘break’ the soft-hearted Lavinia when Randall explains a bit of how much of a danger Sophia is in. Though Thea was as usual her sniffy, suspicious-self, she’s thoroughly flabbergasted to learn Eustace ‘rising from the dead’ and what this means where her and Wynchester’s future was concerned. Actually, Britain’s future for that matter, if Kasai’s men can get away with their plans. With some clue from Lavinia, Randall starts an impossible chase to catch his errant wife. Very soon, it becomes clear to Randall just how clever his Sophia is in her numerous disguises that she took so that no one can identify her, as he’s forged to go back and forth just to establish her trail. Yes, it frustrated him to no end, yet there was that underlying appreciation there too for her unyielding tenacity to survive.
At that moment, Sophia was on her way to this Quaker farm that she was aware of from a sojourn with her father years ago. She knew no one will look for her here. The owner of the farm, friend Elizabeth, welcomes Sophia, who went by an alias. The sweet old woman was not as unsuspecting as she seemed because Elizabeth very early on understood that friend ‘Jane’ is troubled. But Sophia kept to herself mostly, and working her butt off as the norm of the people there. It was a different lifestyle than she was used to, very difficult as well. Now Sophia appreciated what her servants did for her every day. And though work kept her distracted in the daylight, Sophia can’t but think of Randall and her doubts when she was alone. Is he really a villain after her life? Or is he her protector? Could they even have a future? Sophia wasn’t sure. Her body was forever attracted to Randall like a moth to the flame and though she refused to acknowledge her heart, her brain told her to be wary and to stay away.
In the meantime, Max joins poor Randall, who was going nuts as the days went by without any useful information regarding Sophia’s whereabouts. With Max’s help he soon finds out THE place where no one thought to look in. Randall immediately sets out to confront Sophia while Max stayed back to take over the investigation as he was more than capable of the job. Randall knew he needed to talk to his wife privately to find out what spooked her so much that she ran. In the Quaker farm, it felt like a chore when friend Elizabeth won’t let him in unless he tells her his given name as their norm demands; everybody is equal in God’s earth, so they shall be recognized only by their given name. I never knew Randall’s given name until that moment. Even he acknowledged that no one really called him anything but Randall. But I liked ‘Hugh’ much more than Randall, so was glad to finally hear it.
Sophia becomes aware that her time in hiding was over. And though she, at first, is quite suspicious of Hugh, when they actually talk privately, she instantly regrets running away. Though Hugh knew Beneham’s rules by heart, his actions so far hadn’t been like that of a blind follower. She knew that this was what caused her to run but maybe she had judged him wrong. But time will tell, as Hugh informs her that he’s staying here for a while, until Max sends the latest on the Kasai business. Sophia can’t help but feel delighted. Looking at Hugh only made her aware of just how much she wants him, wanted him since the first moment they met. Wanted him through all the delicious, private banters full of innuendoes. His blonde good-looks and rougish confidence set her on fire, there was no denying it. And she knew Hugh felt the same way about her from his very sincere words, spoken after his arrival. So yes, Sophia was going to give him a chance and try to forget the rest of the world... for the time being.
Their stay at the Quaker farm turns out to be more idyllic than they could’ve ever imagined. Friend Elizabeth proves to be one shrewd woman as she was the one to provide the push they needed, by giving them a private place to ‘resolve’ their differences. Frankly, I wasn’t at all surprised when they end up in bed, vigorously consummating their marriage. It was a long time coming! ;) Hugh was not only crazy about Sophia, he was in love, plain and simple, even if he would’ve never said anything to her at that point. But they talked and they discussed; about Earl Beneham, about Kasai and the implications of Helena’s betrayal, but most importantly, about their marriage. To be sure both wanted it to work, but could they survive all the obstacles and mistrust, the darkness of Beneham’s legacy shadowing their every step?
When finally intruders comes to the farm and go for an attack, Hugh realizes that their marriage may not survive. That he may have to distance himself in order to keep Sophia safer. He knew Kasai wanted Sophia and the money and influence she could bring. By then, he had told Sophia and she was aware that Hugh has put himself in danger by marrying her. He was protecting her, not the other way around. Maybe, if he can stay away and take care of Kasai first, Sophia can live a full life. With that in mind, Hugh tricks her into taking a sleeping draught. He requests Max to take her to the other 2 Furies and under his protection. Then, this time, Hugh is the one who runs to keep his beloved safe.
But Sophia won’t have any of it. In the past weeks, she’d not only come to learn more about Hugh as a person and his work under Beneham, which was nothing like her initial apprehensions, but also she’d come to care for him. Care for her heart’s wishes; which is telling her that she can’t go on without him by her side. She didn’t want to lose Hugh come what may. Sophia was still mad at him for taking foolish steps, for tricking her, but she’s no milquetoast miss. She makes a plan with the Furies for another abll and gambling matches, where Thea hopes to ‘lose’ to her Duke so that she can return to Wynchester to keep him safe. Sophia too, wants to tell Hugh that she’d lost that last wager willingly so that she can become his wife. That she had manipulated her ‘fate’ to have him, and that he’s stuck with her for better or for worse.
To investigate Helena’s involvement and what was it that Kasai was after, Sophia returns to her home discreetly… where she finds Hugh with Helena, making bargains. Note that Helena was the spy that betrayed Hugh. Sophia had known about Helena being her illegitimate sister for a long time, but her resentment of being badly mistreated and used as a pawn to their father’s work, wasn’t lost on her. Also was the fact that Helena hated her guts for being the ‘privileged’ one. For once, I couldn’t dislike Helena, and was glad that Sophia understood where it was all coming from. She hated her father too and would’ve felt the same way if she was in Helena’s shoes. But the most amazing thing she hears from her hiding place was Hugh’s confession; the fact that he loves her and would do anything to keep her safe. Just about anything. This time, Sophia was even more determined to show Hugh what he meant to her now.
After Helena’s departure, when they talk, she also discovers that Hugh wasn’t really one of Beneham’s hated ‘soldiers’ but someone recruited by Beneham himself to keep Sophia safe right from the start. The reading of the rules was something Hugh did on his own, but he didn’t live by them. At that moment, Sophia knew she couldn’t keep hating her father and his ‘legacy’ and live a full life too. She needs to forgive, even if not forget. And for that, she decides to take a step back and try for their happiness instead. Now if only she could get it through Hugh’s thick skull that breaking off their marriage is not really necessary. Men really can be as thick as the walls of the Scottish castles! ;p
When she leaves, Sophia not only confesses about losing that wager, but kisses Hugh and calls him ‘dearest’; something she’d called everyone but Hugh, who yearned to be called as such by her. This was all the declaration he needed because she wouldn’t use that word lightly with him unless she meant it. Hugh was in tears because he thought he had to leave her to keep her safe. Instead, his clever and beautiful wife took the whole matter in her hands, challenging him to come and get her for good. You can’t even imagine how happy this made me that I was grinning from ear to ear. Hugh was a brilliant hero IMO; the way he called Sophia ‘sweetness’ was... *sigh* This also proved that there was no shortage of inherent trust between them, even if it was shadowed once or twice by doubts or misinformation. The author did a splendid job of portraying Sophia and Hugh’s relationship and the wonderful chemistry that they shared.
In the end, I wasn’t happy when Helena is murdered by Eustace, who claimed that he’s also a pawn of Kasai. She and Sophia may have gotten to an agreeable term and I wanted that for them. I felt really sad for Helena because IMO she deserved a little peace. By then, all of them knew that Kasai was a figment of Beneham’s imagination; something he created himself for his work, but it came back to bite his own a$$. Now there is a ‘Kasai’ in reality; someone who is controlling all the shifty stuff to upend British government, and more. His identity was still a thing of debate, with pointers at Eustace... but is he, really?
Thea is taken away by Wynchester to their home and we’re still awaiting the big revelation to this intrigue. Can’t wait to read their book! 4.5 stars and recommended.
I received this ARC, courtesy of Entangled Scandalous, via netgalley as a part of the Lady Scandal Blog Tour, 2015 hosted by Goddess Fish Promotions.