My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Beauty and the Scarred Hero by Emily May was, for the most part, another good read. I’m a sucker for scarred hero, no wonder I wanted to check this one out! I enjoyed this story mostly and had not been for some frustrating moments, I think I would’ve loved this one even better.
This book, again, featured another wonderful h, Lady Isabella Knox; spinster, a little whimsical, a daughter and a sister to the Dukes of Middlebury. It’s because she’s the sister of the current duke isn’t the only reason why at 28, Isabella is still on the peak of her popularity. She is also a tall, blonde beauty, or as Nicholas would call her over and over again; a goddess. She loves the Season and whatever London brings at the time of one and the London loves her right back! Isabella is also a rescuer of weak things- be it a dog, or, in this case, a human being.
As she was returning from her sojourn in the country where she got acquainted with her newest nephew (from her Duke brother), Isabella finds this young girl who has run away from her home to escape an unwanted marriage, at the doorstep of the inn she was staying in. When the innkeeper denies giving the girl a place for the night, Isabella can’t help but step in. One thing led to another and she finds herself saddled with the weepy girl, without a clue about what to do with her. Even though, her loyal lady’s maid, Patridge, gave Isabella a look of disapproval, she thought once she figures out what to do she’ll take care of Harriet’s problem. The girl says she has an aunt somewhere and if she can get to her, problem solved! But what Isabella didn’t count on was the kind of ‘trouble’ she’d be getting into soon enough, no thanks to a slip of her tongue regarding the girl’s much older fiancé.
Isabella learns from Harriet that she’s an orphan. Her autocratic grandfather wanted her to marry this older man, ordered most likely. Harriet had no liking for either man, and so she thought running away was the only option for her. Major Nicholas Reynolds, according to Harriet, was an ‘ogre’. Isabella feels instantly protective of her and ends up giving Harriet a room in her London townhouse until she can contact with her aunt, all the while keeping it a complete secret from anyone outside so that there’s no additional trouble. Unfortunately, easier said than done. When she attends to a party thrown by her close friend, Augusta or Gussie, who couldn’t help gushing over her cousin, Isabella soon learns it was the same Major Nicholas and her mouth somehow got ahead of her and she ends up with a ‘The Ogre?!’. Gussie though comes to the instant support of Nicholas but the damage was done. Some gossipy biddy already had heard Isabella and in moments, it was around the ball. When Nicholas, very reluctantly, attends the ball later just because it was thrown by his favorite cousin and hears word ‘ogre’, he knew this was going to be a very unpleasant night.
Nicholas has been a soldier since his early 20s. The second son of an Earl, this was what he chose thinking of all the glories his profession would bring. Unfortunately, in the past 13 yrs. or so his illusions have been shattered completely. He’d learned that there’s more mud, blood and lice than glory in this profession, not to mention the disfigurement to the ones who weren’t ‘lucky’ enough to die after an ordeal. Nicholas has recently sold his commission and has been taking care of his country estate inherited from his maternal grandmother in hopes of marrying and making a family of his own. But his one shortcoming, a half burnt face, is making things difficult. Nicholas is a proud man. Being in military has shaped his life and thinking process. So where people saw an ugly, reddish scar tissue on the half of his face, Nicholas is only reminded of how lucky he’d been that fateful day and the men who died in that fire. Nicholas was the sole survivor, still bearing the survivor’s guilt. But most people don’t know that, and they don’t care either.
Nicholas is looking for a young bride whom he can mould to his liking; another ‘thing’ he picked up in his days as an officer who has trained plenty of young soldiers. He wanted peace and quiet; a marriage without passion. Falling in love hasn’t even crossed his mind, just a family of his own with a wife who won’t make too much fuss was all. Sadly, easier said than done. The one chit he’d decided upon, a colonel’s granddaughter, has ran away making him the laughingstock of the Ton. Not that he cared for the Ton either and had any intensions of attending any balls or parties, had it not been for his quest of a biddable bride. But now, their snickers have gotten out of hand, thanks to a woman who has given Harriet shelter; from him. Who has also given him a sobriquet; The Ogre. Nicholas was so mad about this humiliation that he vows to find the woman and teach her a lesson. He confides as much to Lady Isabella on one of their outings, leaving her rather worried.
Now you may ask how the hell Nicholas ended up going out with Isabella! Well, this is how: the ball where she made the blunder, Isabella was introduced to Nicholas soon thereafter by Gussie. She didn’t like him at first, knowing whatever she did from Harriet’s POV. The scar must’ve bothered Harriet a lot since her reaction to Nicholas was quite severe. Even if it was a mistake, the damage to his reputation was also severe. Isabella was feeling extremely guilty and a need to fix it. Even though no one told Nicholas whose slip of tongue it was, she still felt it was her duty to smooth things over, which is how Isabella comes up with a plan; more precisely, a rescue plan. Typical Isabella, even though she knew she’s going to get in bigger trouble once all is revealed. It wasn’t surprising Nicholas noticed Isabella’s beauty on spot, everyone with a pair of eyes did. She was aware of her allure, but I loved that she never tried to use it to get her way. She was the type who took their beauty in stride, comfortable in their skin.
Isabella had noticed Nicholas’s interest and proposes that they start spending time together. Then the Ton would be speculating more about their supposed courtship rather than wasting time on his new sobriquet. After all, courting a Duke’s sister would be an adventurous opportunity for Nicholas. It’d also smooth his way in the marriage market, even if they never take it to the official stage. Nicholas saw the point, and though he thought the cause maybe a waste of time, he couldn’t deny himself the pleasure of the companionship of a beautiful woman. Even if for a month as his fake would-be fiancée.
And so they start their regular outings, balls, soirees, rides at Hyde Park to be seen together as much as possible. And the more they spend time together, the more attached Isabella and Nicholas begin to become, to each-other. To Isabella, the scar on Nicholas’s face began to lose its grotesque power each day, leaving only the man inside, someone she comes to respect. She discovers a good, capable man. An honest man, even if a bit misguided in his quest for a bride. She doesn’t forget to point it out to Nicholas either, who had already started falling under the spell of Isabella’s carefree and whimsical nature. He begins noticing her wit and intelligence, enjoying every moment they spend together; be it riding beside her in the Hyde Park or rescuing drowning kittens from a roadside canal. The development of their relationship was slow but it was wonderful to watch them fall for each-other even before they knew what had hit them! The way they’d secretly crave each-other’s company a bit more, until it turned into a secret yearning to be something more than just friends. But Isabella knew she’s ‘too old’ for Nicholas’ choice of a bride, while he knew she had no interest in marrying. Isabella had always boasted of her independent life and how much she preferred it to becoming a chattel to a man, so Nicholas thought he didn’t even stand a chance.
But their attraction was so palpable that at one point Nicholas broaches this subject to Isabella; why doesn’t she want to get married? Does she, for that matter, have any idea about the pleasures of a marriage bed? Of how good it can be between a suitable couple? Of course she hadn’t. Isabella was engaged once (I think) but it went nowhere. Then the fortune hunters who wanted nothing but her dowry, if not her physical beauty, completely put her off. But Nicholas she knew wasn’t a fortune hunter by any means. He’s an older, experienced man who has known living without the luxuries of life. Isabella trusted him. And for Nicholas that was the only weapon to make her feel what’s been happening between them. A kiss was all it took for Isabella’s brain to scramble, her thought process to take a different turn. It felt so good with Nicholas that she couldn’t begin to imagine what she has been missing out for so long. They both chalked it off as mere lust, but was that all? That’s the question both dreaded asking. Isabella more, because she had her secret still tucked away in her townhouse. And because she knew once Nicholas is aware of it, it’ll ruin the beautiful thing that has bloomed between them. But Isabella also knew that she had to come clean if they were to go anywhere from here.
From the first kiss, it turns into hundreds of other kisses, most of them stolen here and there, the excitement and the secret pleasure of being held in each-other’s arms. Isabella and Nicholas couldn’t get enough of each-other! Well, Nicholas is a handsome man with the physique of that of a military man, which Isabella had always admired. He was also, if one of his commanders they met later in a ball was correct, used to be quite the ladies man before his accident. Everyone liked him there was no doubt of it. Though Isabella had found Nicholas cold and aloof at first, now she knew better. Even though he has become a recluse of sort, and for good reasons, there was no denying she was falling for him, and hard. If their kisses proved anything, Nicholas was as mad about her as she was for him. But where is it going to lead them to? Harriet’s aunt still hasn’t replied to her queries. Time was passing by and Isabella had no idea what to do with her if her aunt never replies. And for once, she was also annoyed with the ever weepy girl (she cried at the drop of a hat, at every single thing!) and kept wondering how had the silly girl ever thought of Nicholas an ogre! Goes to show just how immature Harriet was. Isabella regretted her slip now more than ever, even though by then Nicholas had taken the insults in stride, learning to ignore them, all because he couldn’t see anything but Isabella by his side.
But then, things turn rather bad. While the question hung in the air between them, Nicholas comes to a decision. Even though he wanted it to be only something physical, he begins realizing that he wanted Isabella more than just a passing affair. He enjoyed her company so very much, he couldn’t imagine being without her. At the same time, Isabella also decides that it’s time she comes clean before their relationship goes any further. Unfortunately, she was the one who got to state her case first... and, you can only imagine. The shock of it was a bit too much for Nicholas. He acts very rash, with cold and cutting remarks to Isabella. He felt that Isabella did that on purpose, to make fun of him, though she kept trying to convince him that it was an accident. I can only surmise that for Nicholas, the humiliation of the years after his accident simply caught up with him. This time it hurt too deep because he was in love with her. And so, he leaves Isabella all weepy and remorseful, even leaving London without notice to drown himself in despair. She, on the other hand, spends the days that passed all hurt, knowing it’s all over for them even before it had began. Isabella tries her best to return to her old carefree self, but damage was done to her too. This time it was her heart. No matter what she did, nothing helped from the misery of knowing she’d never see Nicholas again.
Frankly, I understood Nicholas’ shock and his subsequent reaction but to leave that way and then spend the next 3 weeks in an inn, drinking himself to stupor, was a bit too much. So unlike the strong man that I’ve come to associate him with! It took him that long to come to his senses, to finally rouse himself from his drunken stupor and revisit Isabella’s words to see that her remorse was genuine. This time, Nicholas knew he has to beg for her forgiveness, work hard to convince her that he what he did was wrong, and that he needs another chance. Which Isabella gives him without much of a fight. I didn’t want any fight between them either. Then Nicholas asks for her hand, which was, of course, returned with a ‘yes’ and they end up celebrating this new start of their lives by making love. I thought all was good and this might be the end of all of their trouble.
Very regrettably, that wasn’t the case for it seemed that the worst was yet to come! In the midst of their happiness, Harriet, as usual, dumps cold water (or salty water if you count her ever weepy self, gosh that girl was not only immature, but absolutely intolerable!) by deciding suddenly that she wants to ‘keep’ her words to the Major. Yep, NOW she’ll marry him! It comes right after when they find out that her aunt has remarried and left for America. Seeing no other option she’d decided Nicholas could be her guardian of sort. But what surprised the hell outta me was Nicholas’s ‘duty first, have to honor my words’ decision, which was not only unexpected but also, not at all honorable in the lights of the fact that he’d already slept with Isabella, even if I don’t count in the fact of their shared feelings. I mean HOW COULD HE just stand there and said ‘alright’ to Harriet?! And HOW COULD Isabella have agreed to that decision so meekly for that matter? The whole thing was so out of character for both that I was left completely astonished!
And I simply wanted to beat some sense into that weepy idiot!
This was the part that completely flabbergasted me. Just when I was imagining a sigh-worthy HEA, this is what the author had to throw in to kill the fun? In fact, I was so pissed that the last couple of pages until this mess was sorted out was rather a blur. If the rest of the story hadn’t been so enjoyable, I wouldn’t have rated it 4 stars. Not even close.