Seduction & Scandal (The Brethren Guardians #1) - Charlotte Featherstone My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...

*sigh*... 4 days? A bad record for me! I don’t usually take so much time to finish one book, even if it proves to be a bad one, I skip and finish somehow. I took time with this one because it was neither a bad book in that sense nor badly written and even with all the flaws, I can say there were parts of it I really loved. But, I really wanted to get into it. Sadly, it took me 8 chapters to do that. The story had a lot of inconsistencies and sexually quite a bit toned down. I think I can say that because I’ve read CF’s other books and adored/loved/really liked all of them. I adore her writing, especially her love scenes since they’re so intrinsically woven in the story as a very integral part that even in the short stories, I never felt like saying WTF! I think nowadays I’m looking more into erotica/romantica because of her. Anyway, I guess, since this book came out as a mainstream HR, she decided to tone it down. But let me assure you, Jude or Lord Black was just as yummylicious as her other heroes; dark and broody, intense and oh-baby-hold-me crazy about the heroine. This is where my trouble begin, the heroine of the book, Isabella. I simply couldn’t connect with her in a level I usually could with the other ones. I know I might be repeating but generally, I admire CF’s heroines too. Jane from Sinful was someone I connected like no other. But, Isabella gave me loads of frustrations, the way she was confused about her feelings, her odd obsession with death (which later, very very later for me, I understood why but by then I was already out of my league about her) and treated Jude so ‘on and off’ way. I’ll try to point them out as I go with my review.

The series is about the descendents of three Brethren Guardians- Drake Sheldon, Sinjin York and Sinclair (name still unknown), who were the Templar Knights, given the responsibility to guard the pendant, the chalice and the magical scroll. Their descendents carried on with the responsibilities but recently, the club called the Masonic Club has become a general gothic kinda club with Ton members vying to get an entry. Though there are other members or Masons, the real descendents- Jude Sheldon, the Earl of Black, Adrian York, the Duke of Sussex and Iain Sinclair, the Marquis of Alynwick have had their ‘initiations’ just the way their fathers did at their mid-teens, a process Jude long ago decided that his own son would never go through. Jude’s family guarded the pendant, Adrian’s the chalice and Iain’s guarded the scroll. Since this is the beginning of a series, a lot of the book was spent on introducing and then connecting us to the background. Anyway, there is also a fourth guardian, who was thought to be dead but probably not and causing troubles for the real BGs. I’m still not sure who the Orpheus is; was he the fourth Knight Templar? It seems like there was a House of Orpheus, which caused troubles for Jude, Adrian and Iain’s fathers and was shut down by them. In this story, Orpheus is back and still causing troubles for them. The information about BG and then, about Jude and Isabella’s relationship came so haphazardly that I lost sort of track.

Isabella is an orphan and is always haunted by her past, which deals with a promiscuous mother and grave poverty. She is scared of passion, fears it with such intensity that more than once I felt like strangling her. I knew she had reasons, the life she led as a poor Yorkshire girl, even having a wealthy Marquis as an uncle-by-marriage, still. Her mother was used and discarded by many men. I don’t know what to think of this woman. It seems like she’d been unlucky in love and very impetuous in her decisions about men. I’m not even sure if Isabella’s father, a rake, actually married her mother or not. This one’s just one of many other questions I was confused about, but either got no answers or had to form my own opinions about them. Anyway, I had no clue as to what was the ‘unfortunate event’ happened to Isabella after her mother and grandmother, passed away. Afterwards, the Marquis of Stonebrook, her uncle (her mother’s sister’s husband) took her in and looked after her like his own daughter, Lucy. These two are very fond of each-other but in the later parts of the story, their fondness was put to question due to various incidents. Anyway, Isabella wants to be a novelist; she has the imagination and she writes about- Death. I don’t know what to think but putting Death in capital was meant to view it as a human being or having a human form, which Isabella’s hero did. She also thinks she saw death a few times in her life, lurking in the shadows, at events of people around her passing, which includes her own relatives. This book had some paranormal occurrences going on but none was explain explicitly so you have to form your own opinions; either they were real or implied imaginations by the respective characters.

Isabella’s Lord Death has a distinct characteristic it seems; he looks very much like Jude, Lord Black with his long dark hair and glowing blue-green eyes. A recluse by society’s measure (which is a façade, as I understood, for his role as a BG), Lord Black’s life is mired with scandals. He lives just the opposite road of the Stonebrook townhouse. Isabella, I was surprised that didn’t know about these scandals even living with the Marquis for 2 yrs. Over and over again, I got distracted (sometimes not liking it) by her paragraphs in her diary, on Death, which was supposed to be a probable work in progress. And, many a times, incidents narrated by her in her diary took place afterwards, leaving me with questions like; was she predicting future or something? How come? I had no clue how to judge them. So, in a ball, she finally meets Jude. He sort of singled her out in his attentions, sought for an introduction through her uncle. Isabella’s cousin, Lucy is another character I had difficulties liking; she was ever the impulsive thing, in everything she does. She gave me this impression that she is spoiled to the core but later on, I don’t know, knowing some secrets of her past, I decided to keep my opinions to myself until after I read her book. Adrian or Sussex, whom everyone thinks as ever proper and prudish, is secretly crazy about her. Lucy, to whom passion means everything, gives no s*it about him; at least she tries her best not to.

So after their initial meeting and a waltz (just as Isabella wrote in her diary), Lucy is very interested about a match between Jude and Isabella. She’s intrigued by the way the Earl seems to devour Isabella with his eyes. But Isabella thinks: nope, this is not for me. She’s already being courted by a man called Knighton, who’s always busy with his research and findings for the museum. She keeps seeing Jude in various places, like when she went to the seedy part of the town to buy medicines for her headaches (something comes on when she’s having one of those dreams that include Death- I’m still confused over the whole thing). She’s also invited in Jude’s home for dinner, along with Lucy and her father, wearing a red dress (as she dreamed and later penned in her diary) made by Lucy herself. Lucy loves to sew her wardrobes, too. Here they met Iain, the charming rogue and Adrian’s older sister, Elizabeth. I so admired Elizabeth from the first meeting because I thought she was smart and courageous, never letting her blindness shadowing her life. Or, that’s what I got from her responses. Also, there’s something going on between her and Iain, who even though a rake, seems to come out of his charming façade around Elizabeth and become very honest about his feelings. But of course, he denies it outright, telling Jude and Adrian that he’s never be a fool enough to fall in love.

Now, in this dinner is where Jude and Isabella’s first intimate encounter happens. Jude lets her ‘know’ that he wants her. Isabella gave into his touches, making a note to herself that later on she’d try to ignore him or this, as she’s being courted by Knighton. Huh? I know the kisses and the intimate incident between them took place just within 2 days of their first ‘official’ meeting and I understood why she was trying to keep a distance, thinking she doesn’t really know the man (and might follow her mother’s footsteps with passion, grr!) but later on, I just couldn’t justify the way she treated Jude; not after he talked about his own past to her, it seemed like silently begging her for her understanding. She gave in for the 2nd time to his touch and after that, straight out started ignoring him, with the bloody cut direct! She was now trying her best to become a good wife to Knighton. W.T.F? I was SO PISSED. I mean, it felt like she just used him and then remembered: oh, I wasn’t supposed to be doing this, something my mother would’ve done, to dip into passion. Since I’m being courted by someone I don’t really care for, I can ignore the lovesick fool! Really? She had a fight over it with Lucy too, where Lucy comes forth with her own past; a lover she lost a few months ago and scared that she’ll never know such passion with anyone else. Even though I thought Lucy was irritating at times, she was more honest about her actions than Isabella, who blamed it all on her mother. I thought she was a veritable coward!

In the beginning of the story, Adrian announced that the chalice and the pendant have been lost. So far, they’re trying to investigate it as well. We get to see the anonymous Orpheus too and some background, who has an insane urge to procure all the power in the world. Yes, he has re-opened the club and using the name Orpheus. The club is little more than a bawdy house, with opium and absinthe flowing through it. There’s a deep conspiracy going on, he’s united with Jude’s deceased fiancee’s sister, who’s now his lover (hope I got it right) to destroy him. This is why some of the murders and kidnappings were done in such a way that it looked like it was Jude’s carriage that left the scene. One of the murders included a woman who performed séances for a living. Lucy has recently formed this zealous fondness for séances and dragged Isabella with her to meet the woman. Adrian accompanied them, since it was very late when they were going out, only with Lucy’s maid as their companion. Jude later on visits them, because of a letter that he thought Isabella sent him. There were more incidents here and when Isabella said that she never wrote a letter, he went back to investigate the matter. Jude found out that the woman was fake, the whole thing was performed because someone paid her. She has no idea who but recognizes Jude’s cufflinks that bore the seal of the Masonic club and his own number in it. She confirmed that the letter had the same seal, which made it clear that someone from inside the club must be a part of this conspiracy. Anyway, there were more mysterious incidents that ended up linking Isabella and Lucy inadvertently, because Orpheus was out to destroy the BGs methodically and knew these two are their weaknesses.

In between, Knighton gets his initiation in the Masonic Club, courtesy of Jude who wanted to keep an eye on him because of the incidents occurring. Knighton was kidnapped by Orpheus when he was put in a room, alone and blindfolded, as a part of his initiation. Orpheus gives him the pendant, telling him he wants Knighton to find the scroll. The pendant, it seems, starts working its dark magic on Knighton. There are information about the chalice, the pendant and the scroll that associate with eternal, worldly power. Because of its temptingly destructive nature the BGs were given this responsibility in the first place. Jude had lost the faith a long time ago but incidents after incidents remind him again of his duties. Knighton, in a boastful manner, oneday showed the pendant to Lucy and Isabella. Somehow he dropped it while putting it back in his pocket and Lucy stole it. Knighton said something about any wish being fulfilled and Lucy thought why not try to bring back her lover with this. The pendant starts playing with Lucy’s mind too. She creeps out of the house at midnight (nothing new to her) to find the scroll, which Iain hid in the library of the Masonic Lodge, thinking no one would look in a place so obvious. But, Lucy’s plans were foiled by Jude who happened to be there as the part of their investigation. Adrian and Iain also got there in time and Lucy was taken back to her house, screaming and attacking Jude, not herself at all. Jude got back the pendant, Iain the scroll. This was one of the incidents that made them believe, again, that these three artifacts certainly possess something dark.

In Stonebrook’s house, Jude is also confronted by Isabella. They met before in the museum where Knighton was unveiling his findings about the Knight Templars and Isabella said ‘goodbye’ to him, never giving a s*it about his feelings. I mean what was her problem? I, who abhors anything that indicates cheating, wanted Jude to find someone else and give his back to Isabella. There, it’s out and I feel great! By now, Jude was out of patience and bargains with her to come to him for three nights, read him from her journal (Jude knows what she writes about). The underlying thing was he wanted her in his bed, otherwise it’s Lucy’s reputation he’d ruin. But of course, he meant none of those, just wanted to see if Isabella, now, would come to him. He so wanted her to accept him as he is; with the scandals about his mother, younger brother and his own fiancee’s death hanging on his head that it tugged at my heart more than once and I wanted to slap Isabella hard. Whatever Jude told Isabella earlier, explained that he wasn’t responsible for any of the deaths, at least not intentionally but the Ton and the gossips made it look like he was. Poor darling! And, he suffered for a long time with this, until he met Isabella 2 yrs. ago...

Isabella goes to him, berating herself for wanting him, simultaneously daydreaming, too. Lord, she was such baggage with her conflicting thoughts! On the first day, Jude asks her to leave as he never meant what he said. But the scene, where Lucy gazes upon Jude in his library, waiting for her, was so sexy. Ah!

“Good evening, Miss Fairmont.”

She saw Black sprawled out in a wingback chair, jacketless, the white shirt he wore unbuttoned to the waist, revealing an enticing view of his chest and the fine black hair that was hidden beneath. “I was beginning to wonder if you would come tonight. It is midnight after all.”

On cue the large pendulum clock in the hall began to chime out the hour. Isabella met his gaze, marveled at the dark layers in his eyes. He appeared at once indolent, yet supremely masculine, and in his state of dishabille he was utterly breathtaking.

And, his words to Isabella were sexy too; the way he called her ‘little magpie’, ‘my little love’ or simply ‘Bella’. How could she ignore all these and for the better part of the book, God only knows! However, I agreed on one thing; when she kept on saying I don’t know you to Jude, he replied it was because Isabella herself doesn’t want to give their relationship a chance. Anyway, when Jude asks her to leave, Isabella is a bit stunned. And, then they talk about things. Those reveal a past two years ago; a lonely and disillusioned Jude was in Yorkshire, where he first saw Isabella and fell instantly in love. He asked around about her and one day, while following her, he found out that she was going to commit suicide by drowning. Jude saved her. Isabella knew nothing of these and in her fuzzy mind after the rescue, she thought him Death, kissing and telling her “It is not your time, love. You will not die tonight.”. She thought Death has spared his life and her imagination ran wild, which led to more dreams and to the narratives in her diary. She certainly heard about him but I’m not sure if she ever saw Jude before their first official introduction in London. If she did or even on the official introduction, how come she didn’t recognize him until now when they’re talking about all these? No clue! Jude tells her in beautiful words that he loves her, been loving her for these 2 yrs. and haven’t been with a woman for a long time because it’s her he wanted but knew he can’t have; not because of her mother’s scandals but his own.

“There are no certainties in life,” he murmured as he lowered his head and kissed the apex of her breast where her heart hammered so hard. “But I can give you this certainty. I love you. And I want you. I have wanted you for so long, and that feeling has only grown. There must be trust between us, Isabella. Passion is not enough for me. I want more from you.”

Seriously, how can you still be confused woman?

The next day, of course, Isabella comes to her senses and decides to give into their mutual passions. But, it’s been far too late for me to appreciate her decision because I was already too annoyed. When she goes to Jude, she talks about why she wanted to end her life and how grateful she is that it was him who saved her. But I loved it, that Isabella used all her pin money, which she saved for a day when she might need them, and bought Jude a gift. It was related to her imagination of Death. Finally, they made sweet, hot love. As Isabella was going back home at dawn, with Jude watching from the windows, she was kidnapped by Knighton. Knighton has gone totally mad; over his quest for worldly powers and anger because he knew Isabella had just slept with Jude. But mostly, because the pendant’s dark powers have got to him. Jude understanding what’s happening sends words to Adrian and Iain and chases after the carriage himself. The ending left more issues unanswered. Knighton was killed by someone whom all of them later deemed as the Orpheus himself. Jude was shot by Knighton and hurt. I should’ve been convinced by Isabella’s fears of Jude dying but I wasn’t. And this is when she decided that the guy has had enough and with her suitor dead, it’s safe to tell him ILU. How convenient! Sorry but that’s exactly how I felt.

So, more questions... Why Stonebrook was present in the lodge that night? How is Lucy related to Orpheus or the House? The mystery continues with the stolen chalice. I have my own hunches about Lucy. If they prove to be true then I have all the sympathy for her. Adrian, while chasing Orpheus found a piece of lace, something Lucy recognized with just a glance, giving the poor guy some painful realization as well. Lucy it seems, would do anything to save the man, even if it meant to become Adrian’s enemy. Oh well, got me interested in the next book Pride Passion for sure, which is due in December this year. I’m also looking forward to “Temptation & Twilight”, Elizabeth and Iain’s book with bated breath. Seduction & Scandal, meanwhile, gets a 3.75 star from me.