Do You Want To Start A Scandal by Tessa Dare
Do You Want To Start A Scandal
By Tessa Dare
Published by Avon Books (2016)
Miss Charlotte Highwood was embarrassed by her mother’s desperation to find her a husband from the nobility. Mrs Highwood actually meant well – to get her youngest daughter securely married, like her other daughters – but her actions had been too over-the-top. As a result, gossip pages had labelled Charlotte as ‘The Desperate Debutante’.
When they attended Sir Vernon Parkhurst’s ball, Charlotte knew at once that her mother would stop at nothing to match her with the most eligible bachelor in attendance, namely Piers Brandon, the Marquess of Granville.
In order to save herself and Lord Granville from embarrassment, Charlotte thought warning the unsuspecting marquess was a good idea. She intended to advise Lord Granville to avoid her at all costs during the fortnight-long ball.
At first, the plan seemed to go smoothly when Charlotte found the Lord Granville alone in the Parkhursts’ library. But as soon as she managed to lay out her plans of avoiding each other – in which the Lord Granville seemed to consider – a couple sneaked into the library. In order to avoid being seen together, Charlotte and Piers hid behind the drapes to wait until the couple left the room. And that moment happened to be the beginning of their nightmare.
The unidentified couple was at the library for a tryst – although done secretly, they made noises disturbing enough that left both Charlotte and Piers shaken. When the couple were done and left the room, Charlotte and Piers scrambled to get away from the library as well – but unfortunately, they were caught by the Parkhursts’ eight-year-old son Edmund.
Edmund had heard the ‘strange’ sounds and concluded someone was being murdered at the library, and so went there to check it out. When he found Charlotte with Piers there, Edmund assumed that Piers had tried to murder Charlotte – and he made a commotion out of it. Sir Vernon and Mrs Highwood arrived just in time to hear out young Edmund’s accusations, but as adults, they could easily deduce what Edmund had really overheard.
Mrs Highwood was elated with the scandal, and she was most expectant that Lord Granville will do the most honourable thing soon by asking for Charlotte’s hand in marriage. Charlotte tried to explain what had actually happened, but to no avail – it was not proper in front of Edmund, and her mother cut her off every time to ensure the supposed scandal stayed.
Piers eventually spoke out, but much to Charlotte’s surprise, he did not offer any explanations about the incident, but instead made promises to both Sir Vernon and Mrs Highwood that he will marry Charlotte after the Parkhurst ball ends.
Charlotte thought Piers was just being honourable, taking the blame when he was totally innocent in the matter. So Charlotte refused to settle down on the issue: for one, she had always wanted to marry for love, and she thought Piers would also be better off marrying someone else, someone whom he really loved. Besides, succumbing to the situation would mean proving that the gossips about her had been true after all.
Thus Charlotte was determined to do some personal investigations to uncover the identity of the mystery lovers in the library. Charlotte believed that if the couple were discovered and the truth straightened out, poor Lord Granville would not have to be forced into marriage with her.
But Piers was not too eager about Charlotte’s idea. He was, actually, an undercover spy who was tasked to investigate Sir Vernon’s background. The British Crown had been considering sending Sir Vernon abroad to fill an important post, but they need information about his background, lest he could be untrustworthy to hold the position. And so Piers was there, at the party, and the Parkhurst library – to determine whether Sir Vernon had a clean record or had been involved in any incriminating behaviour. And this was the reason why Piers had rather take the blame in the situation regarding Charlotte. He preferred to be thought as being in the library for a tryst rather than being discovered that he was snooping around.
And, furthermore, Piers was somehow suddenly attracted towards Charlotte that he decided to have her as his wife after all. Working in espionage, Piers was used to meeting deceitful and conniving people. So when he found Charlotte to be one of the few honest and trustworthy people he knew, Piers wanted her. But he was unable to express that feeling because he himself did not know what the feeling was.
Piers had an unhappy childhood; his mother died of suicide and he was still traumatized by her death to this day. When he became a spy – a world in which life does not matter – Piers believed there was no turning back and his soul had been blackened forever. He did not believe he was capable of love and that was the beginning of his problem with Charlotte’s stance.
“There’s a reason the poets say ‘falling in love’, and not ‘climbing’. There’s no controlling it, no choosing where one lands.” (Piers Brandon, Lord Granville, page 37)
“Love with the right person makes people stronger. Better than they ever could have been apart.” (Charlotte Highwood, page 74)
Piers promised everything if Charlotte marries him: wealth, large estates, security, and many more. Everything but love. Unfortunately, love is the one thing that Charlotte wanted out of the marriage. The fact only frustrated Charlotte more, as Piers was adamant to marry her despite not being able to give the one thing she had made clear that she wanted.
As the days of the Parkhurst party passed by, Charlotte slowly got to know more about Piers. She uncovered Piers’ identity as a spy by herself: but rather than be repulsed by it, she was totally excited about it. Charlotte also realized that Piers actually cared about her and would stop at nothing to ensure her safety. Even if he still refused to acknowledge (or really had no idea) that what he felt for her was actually love.
In the end, Charlotte realized that she had fallen in love with Piers, too, and would marry him with certainty despite not being able to catch the mysterious lovers in the library. Besides, towards the end of the party, Piers had taken baby steps and succeeded in being a bit more expressive with his feelings for Charlotte.
(p/s: The identity of the mysterious lovers were discovered during the farewell party, when they had another tryst at another location. They really had no malicious intent towards Charlotte nor Piers, and they really had no idea that the two were hiding behind the drapes during the first incident in the library. The man had been thinking about telling the truth to Piers, but when Piers quickly took responsibility and offered to marry Charlotte, he thought that Piers and Charlotte already had an understanding then and there was no need to explain anything. Guess who were the mysterious lovers??? 😂)
Charlotte and Piers got married about three months after the Parkhurst ball, and by then Piers had really learnt to express his love more openly for Charlotte. (And, Sir Vernon passed his vetting and was later posted to Italy).