The Scandalous Wager (Regency Romance) - Olivia Fontayne Okay, so there are no reviews for this book. REALLY??

Prepare to be amazed because this book has the (dubious? surely not!) distinction of being the first - that's right, the FIRST - romance novel I ever read. Yup, ever ever.

As I rehashed recently in one of the discussion threads, the "scandalous" wager appears in the prologue. On a manly man weekend away, the Earl of Rotherham (the "H") takes part in a reverse gambling wager where the gamblers are trying to offload things they don't need. For example, they're getting rid of a boggy plot of land nobody would buy, etc. One fellow wagers...his maiden aunt. Yup, he wants someone to take his maiden aunt off his hands so that he no longer has to be her caretaker. He originally intended the maiden aunt to be the 50+ year old aunt, but our heroine, Diana (the "h"), takes her place since the older aunt doesn't want to travel all that way, etc. Diana is, after all, the nephew's aunt...just not the one he intended. Diana travels from France to stay with the earl. Fireworks (and swans, doves, flying bouquets, and talking parrots) ensue. (To clarify, if I remember correctly, maiden aunt Diana is in her late 20s/early 30s, so, yes, she's a spinster of the Regency period.)

This book really hooked me on traditional Regencies. It was the summer before my senior year, and I was waiting for my mom in the car. I had finished my book (some popular fiction thing along the John Grisham lines), and I had nothing to read (the horrors!). I picked up my mom's book (i.e., this book) to pass the time, and the rest, so they say, is history. I devoured traditional Regencies that summer, and my SAT score jumped 100 points. I attribute that to the vocabulary I learned through reading these traditional Regencies. Yes, yes I do.

Anyway, this book made quite an impression on me, and, in retrospect, contains quite a lot of what you'd expect from a traditional Regency in a well-written and tightly-plotted package. The story takes place entirely at Rotherham's country estate, where, once Rotherham loses the aforementioned scandalous wager, Diana shows up on his doorstep with suitcase and talking pet parrot in tow.

Rotherham is a cool-headed and enigmatic H who keeps you guessing as to his true feelings. Diana is an intelligent, not-beautiful-but-not-plain spinster from France (a delightful twist) who has a talking pet parrot and is quite handy with the ribbons. In fact, she has the distinction of being the only female to handle Rotherham's prized greys (not necessarily with his permission, but...that's a cute side note to the story). There's a whole host of secondary characters that contribute to developing a side romance, fostering a little jealousy on Rotherham's part, and introducing a feminine rival for Rotherham's affections.

One of the plot points comes when said feminine rival challenges Diana to a carriage race and, when Diana demurs, saying that she doesn't have a carriage there, the catty lady says Rotherham could always loan Diana the use of his greys. Imagine her surprise and consternation when she finds out (from Rotherham's own lips) that Diana has, indeed, ALREADY handled the greys. Yes, Rotherham's prized greys, which the wicked rival has never touched, have already been in the hands of our lovely heroine. *wiggles eyebrows*

As a traditional Regency, The Scandalous Wager is completely "clean" and has, at most, some kissing scenes and a whole lot of yummy tension. This book is a lot of clean fun that climaxes with a thwarted elopement attempt and ends with a scene at a country inn that left me with a smile on my face. Indeed, just remembering it now has me smiling. :)

P.S.: Olivia Fontayne is the early pen name for Patricia Oliver, who wrote a number of traditional Regencies for Signet. The Scandalous Wager was her first novel and was a Golden Heart and RITA award finalist.