Scandal Becomes Her by Shirlee Busbee

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Welcome to the latest edition of I Read This Shit So You Don’t Have To. Trigger warnings for discussion of rape and assault.

When I picked up Scandal Becomes Her I was super excited for the gothic elements it offered. Instead I got a pile of WTFery and a hero who is solidly on Team Don’t Fuck That Guy.

I’m pretty much spoiling the shit out of everything in this review, so if you actually want to read this book (and I don’t recommend it)…I don’t know. May the odds be ever in your favor, I guess. And before anyone comments “But Elyse! The eighties were a weird time!” this book was published in 2007.

Our intrepid heroine is Nell Anslowe. She’s resigned herself to being an old maid because ten years ago she was in a riding accident that left her with a limp. Her then-fiancé (also on Team Don’t Fuck That Guy) broke off their engagement.

Since her accident, Nell has had terrifying and graphic dreams of a man murdering women in a dungeon and dropping them down the sluice hole. She’s convinced that her dreams are visions of actual murders.

Nell is also going to inherit a fuckton of money from her dad.  So one night, an impoverished nobleman/mustache-twirling villain named Tynedale kidnaps Nell from her bedroom for the purposes of ruining her so they have to be married. Then his carriage overturns in a storm and Nell is able to flee to an abandoned cottage without Tynedale seeing where she’s gone.

Now enter our hero, and this guy is a fucking treat.

Julian, Earl of Wyndham, is also on the road during this storm because his stepsister, Elizabeth, may have run away with a dashing captain (as Regency ladies are wont to do).

Julian was disinclined to set out in pursuit. His ride home in the sedan chair he had hailed upon leaving Boodle’s had already acquainted him with the fact that there was  wicked storm moving over the area. And if Elizabeth was damn silly enough to throw her future away on Carver, let her! But Diana’s sobs and pleadings finally overcame his common sense and convinced him that it was his duty to stop such an impudent match.

Grumbling and muttering, he ordered his horse brought round and changed his clothes. Within a matter of minutes, a broad-brimmed hat pulled across his forehead and swathed in a many-caped greatcoat, he was riding hell-bent for leather out of London. As the weather did its best to make his ride a nightmare, and he doggedly pressed forward, his thoughts were not kind toward his stepsister. In fact, he rather thought that he would beat Elizabeth soundly and throttle young Carver when he caught up to them.

So he’s pissy about being out in the rain and is going to beat his stepsister.

Kim from The Real Housewives of Atlanta says Fuck you. while raising her middle finger

Anyway, Julian is forced to take shelter in the same cottage as Nell, and you can guess what happens next.

He’s a perfect gentleman and offers her his coat and they discuss the weather until they can be rescued?

Nope. We get this:

They landed in a heap, Julian on top of her. His warm weight crushed her to the floor and, panicked, Nell struck him. “Let me go!” she gasped. “You are no gentleman to treat me so! My father will have your hide if you dare touch me.”

Julian smiled down at her, the feel of her slender body beneath him the most delicious sensation he had ever experienced. Rape, however, had never appealed to him and two things were apparent: she was an innocent and wanted none of him. But that mouth was an overwhelming temptation and he coaxed, “One kiss, poppet. Just one.”

You know, I’d like to think that most dudes don’t have to contemplate or mention the fact that rape has never appealed to them BECAUSE THE IDEA THAT IT WOULD BE APPEALING IS SO ABHORRENT AND REPULSIVE.

When a hero has to qualify things like “rape never appealed to me,” does that mean at one point it might have? That someone else was like, “It’s terrific, you should try some!” That he associated with people who do find it appealing?

Isn’t the threshold for basic decency that you don’t question if rape is appealing in the first place?

Fuck. This. Guy.

A ferret rolls aound on a couch, pulling pillows down on top of itself while the words

So anyway, Nell and Julian are found by her brother and father who have been searching for her the entire night. They think briefly about just “pretending this never happened” and all going home, but then (I shit you not) this nosy couple fucking wanders into the abandoned cottage and is all like “Oh, hulloo! What’s everyone about, then?”

We’ve just has this monstrous storm and apparently these two are like, “Well, shall we wake up at the ass-crack of dawn and wander down to that one abandoned cottage that literally no one knows about just to see what’s up?

Of course, dear! That sounds delightful! And also don’t forget we’ll have to navigate swamped roadways and overturned trees. Let me get my bonnet.

So now Nell and Julian basically have to get married.

Julian goes home and shows us, once again, that he is the actual worst:

Slumped bonelessly in the deep copper tub, Julian groaned pleasurably as the heated water gradually worked its magic on his exhausted body. Bliss. Sipping a goblet of wine, tenderly handed him by his butler, Dibble, he decided he might live after all.

I really hate this dude. Even the fact that his butler is named Dibble makes me want to punch him.

So anyway, Julian decides he won’t make any physical demands of Nell on their wedding night because he had a brief spell of self-reflection and a moment of decency popped out, I guess? But then, when Nell is like “Oh, thank God!” he pouts in the corner with his brandy.

Then one night Nell has one of her horrifyingly graphic murder nightmares  and Julian busts into her room (naked of course because Dibble knows his lordship likes to feel the freshly pressed linens on his supple nutsack) because she’s screaming.

And basically the scene goes like this:

“OMG ARE YOU OKAY WHAT EVEN?”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you that I have horrifying and graphic dreams of torture and murder and likely watched a woman being killed right now and hey, you’re naked!”

“Yes, I prefer the feeling of the linens rubbing directly on the supple flesh of my nutsack.”

“So, I’ve just had this dream that would…how do I say this delicately…cause an average human being to shit themselves, but now that I’ve seen a peen, I definitely want to bone.”

“Cheerio then! Dibble! Fetch me my boning brandy! And a cold compress for my neck for after!”

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia says No thanks.

So then a whole bunch of stuff happens.

Julian’s stepmom, Diana, shows up for a visit and Julian thinks:

Not only could Diana’s fits and starts be a problem but he also feared the feminine squabbles that might break out. If Diana began to lord it over Nell…The hideous image of himself torn asunder between two raging women rose in his mind.

Regina George from Mean Girls says shut up

But Diana and Nell get along fine and if anyone tears Julian asunder, it will be Dibble when one future blood-soaked day he’s had enough of scrubbing his master’s foot-calluses while he reclines in his copper tub with his boning brandy. (Ed. note: you do read a lot of thrillers, don’t you?)

So then the ladies go riding one day and Nell is thrown from her horse and rescued by Julian’s cousin, Charles, who lives next door. But he’s “one of those cousins” with whom Julian isn’t on speaking terms, so then Julian gets jealous.

Also staying with Charles is Tynedale (of course) and Raoul (another cousin) who is also painted to be evil purely because his mom is French, I guess.

So like zero to sixty, we find out that three potential villains live next door and you just know one of them is the dude throwing ladies down the sluice hole.

In a series of events that were all extremely confusing, we find out that Julian’s cousin (another one) (I know) John was murdered ten years ago. And that maybe Nell witnessed that murder and the killers made it look like she had a riding accident (she doesn’t remember much before being rescued) hoping that she’d die from her injuries. And now she’s somehow psychically linked to the killer and sees him committing murders? IDK.

Samantha from Sex in the City drunk eye rolls while holding a martini glass.

Also Julian worries that Nell might be in love with Tynedale, the guy who kidnapped her and would have raped her.

He tossed off the last of the brandy, his face grim. So, did he believe her or not? He recalled the glitter in her fine eyes, the outrage on her face, and a wave of remorse and shame washed over him. How could he have doubted her? He was a  fool! The moment Tynedale’s name had been uttered, he’d reacted like a callow youth in love for the first time–allowing insecurity and jealousy to rule him.

A wry smile crossed his face. Well, he was in love for the first time, surely that gave him some excuse. But there was no denying that he’d let a green-eyed monster, and, he admitted, his own tempter drive a wedge between them they did not need. He took a deep breath. Even if he was not in love with Nell, he would not allow their relationship to deteriorate. He had failed at one marriage, he would not another. And he would not lose Nell to Tynedale without a fight. She was his…and he loved her.

Her nightmares, her link to the murderer, troubled him deeply. If John’s murderer were to learn of that link…If even a hint of Nell’s connection to him  were discovered…A chill of bone-deep terror enveloped him. Until this monster, this vile beast of her nightmare was caught, Nell was in desperate danger, her very life could be at stake. At the idea of Nell being harmed a rage such as he had never known exploded through him. His fingers tightened on the snifter and the delicate stem of the snifter snapped. It was the stinging of his palm that brought him back from the well of black fury that he had fallen into and, starting at the blood welling from the deep cuts on his fingers, he made a vow: he would find this monster and kill him. For Nell’s sake, this creature must be found and killed.

And that’s about as much emotional growth as we get from Julian.

His plan to find the monster and bring him to justice involves Julian and his cousin Marcus (how many fucking cousins does this guy have?!) riding around England and asking people if they can look at their dungeons to see if any of them match Nell’s description.

Seriously.

“Hello total stranger! Might I look at your dungeon? For very non-creepy reasons, I assure you.”

Also there’s some super racist shit about “gypsies.”

Then a woman is found murdered on Julian’s property and they realize that the killer is literally in the neighborhood. And Julian is assisted in the man-hunt by his groundskeeper and the local doctor, both of whom are his half siblings because his father apparently got half the county pregnant.

I’m not even making this up. I just…

Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous drinks straight from the bottle.

So if you’re looking for a super satisfying resolution to the murder-dungeon thing, there isn’t one. There’s also not a super satisfying resolution to any internal conflict between Julian and Nell, either. Basically she worries that he can’t love her because he’s still in love with his late wife to which Julian is all “Pfffft, I didn’t even like her. Haven’t you picked up on the fact that I’m a total asshole yet?”

And that’s the whole fucking book.

I know because I read all of it. So you don’t have to.

So why did I give this book a F and not a F+? I feel that F+ is a grade reserved for magical unicorns of books that are so bad that they are good–compulsively readable. Moreover the books I grade F+ have an element of joy to their WTFery. This book was a painful slog. I read Scandal Becomes Her because I had to tell The Bitchery about all of this nonsense, not because I was enjoying myself in spite of the book.

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