Lady Mercy Danforthe Flirts with Scandal clearly pays homage to Jane Austen’s Emma, a book I very much enjoyed. It’s a story with plenty of sparring between the hero and heroine, as SB Sarah would put it “I don’t wanna love you. I don’t wanna like you. I can’t stop thinking about your hair, dammit!” (see Beyond Heaving Bosoms). It started off slow for me, but by the midway point I found it difficult to put down.
Lady Mercy Danforthe is a busy-body. She believes that she knows best, and she’s more than happy to “help” others realize how she can improve their lives. She is sister to the Earl of Everscham, and few people are willing to tell her butt out of their business. She truly means well: matchmaking, offering unsolicited advice on managing a household, fashion or keeping one’s husband in check. She’s organized to a fault, frugal yet generous with her money, and I thought, initially, quite obnoxious. Her life is so well-ordered that she chose her fiancé, Viscount Grey, because he is bland and suitable and his coloring matches her décor. I also used to choose my men based on how well they matched the furnishings; unfortunately lime green was en vogue at the time and I was forced to boyfriend shop at jaundice support meetings.
Anyway, Lady Mercy’s companion, Molly, is set to marry Rafe Hartley, the bastard son of a nobleman. Mercy attends the wedding in the small village of Sydney Dovedale, only to find Molly in a fit of tears, unwilling to go through with her vows. She doesn’t love Rafe, and she gives Mercy the unenviable task of breaking the bad news to the groom.
This is all made more complicated by the fact that Mercy and Rafe once eloped to Gretna Green. Her brother “rescued” her before the marriage could be consummated and it was quietly annulled. When Rafe later had a falling out with his father and fell on hard times, Mercy stepped forward as an anonymous benefactress, providing Rafe money to move back home and reconcile with his family. She also gently nudged him in the direction of Molly.
Now that things have well and truly fallen apart, Mercy is determined to fix them. She intends to get Rafe and Molly back together somehow—despite the fact that neither party wants that. Molly leaves for London, intent on becoming a modiste. Rafe is still carrying a torch for Mercy, although he denies it. Rafe is as stubborn as Mercy is. While she is about propriety and order, Rafe lives according to his own code. He is the last Hartley male, and he has no interest in accepting his father’s charity and becoming a lawyer as the family intends. Instead he makes his living as a farmer, preferring to work the land and eschewing polite society more or less altogether.
Mercy stays in Sydney Dovedale with the intention of putting things to right, which puts her in close proximity to Rafe, and of course sparks fly. With Molly in London and Viscount Grey in Italy, Rafe and Mercy start to remember why they eloped five years ago.
The first part of this book could have been titled Lady Mercy Danforthe Gets All Up in Everyone's Business, and to be honest, I found her know-it-all attitude initially grating. Once Rafe began to melt Mercy's frosty demeanor and the sexual tension ramped up, I found her character more human and sympathetic.
I really, really enjoyed the progression of Mercy and Rafe’s relationship. They way they slowly came together, the way their individual back stories were woven into this book, was superbly done. The story flowed along naturally and effortlessly. I also really enjoyed that this was set in the country, not London. If you’re sick of Vauxhall and balls, this book has a wonderful setting and sense of place. The secondary characters who populate the town are interesting and dynamic, not just window dressing (Mrs. Pyke is hilarious–sauce box).
Rafe and Mercy are great, three dimensional characters. It took a bit for me to really understand (or in Mercy’s case, like) them, but once I did I truly enjoyed their banter, and their blossoming love.
I would have given Lady Mercy Danforthe Flirts with Scandal an A except that the first third of the book dragged for me. Mercy was initially annoying, and Rafe a bit flat, but once the story starting picking up momentum, the characters really started to shine. I’d certainly recommend this book, but I’d caution to be patient and let the story grow.