The Rogue Not Taken (Scandal and Scoundrel #1) by Sarah MacLean (2016)
My favorite thing about this story is Lady Sophie's disdain for the aristocracy and her lifelong dream of opening a bookshop in the little town where she grew up. Her family wasn't rich or titled when she was growing up, but when her father bought a piece of land that turned out to harbor a profitable coal mine, they became rich and he bought his title. Others in London society considered the family to be social climbers and didn't fully accept them. Sophie hated these snobs and hated that she had to live among them. When she fled London after the disastrous party, she could think only of going back to her hometown and marrying the baker she had promised herself to years ago.
King was also leaving London for the country, but for very different reasons. His father who hadn't spoken to in years sent a message that he was dying. King blamed his father for the death of the one woman he ever loved, and was only returning so he could have the pleasure of telling his father that he was the end of the line for their family. King was a bit of an alpha male, which is not my favorite sort of guy, but I found his story intriguing and he obviously cared for Sophie in spite of himself.
Their relationship had a number of stumbling blocks related to each other's reputation and the societal pressures facing the aristocracy at that time. Marrying as a means to secure a higher rank and greater wealth was common, and if you happened to love someone who was in a better position than you, the burden of proving you wanted to marry for love was a difficult one to overcome. Sophie was all too aware of her family's reputation, but no matter how much she protested, it was hard for others - like King - to believe she actually cared nothing for the aristocracy. Making things more complicated for the two, they were both stuck on an old love from the past. It was all fairly complicated, and satisfying to see them work through all their internal issues while contending pressures from their families and society.
Just like MacLean's other books, this one is filled with humor and witty banter and was a lot of fun to read. I first heard about it when the author was interviewed on Smart Podcast, Trashy Books a while back. She promised a new series based on TMZ-like headlines from scandal sheets, which totally piqued my interest at the time so I was watching for this book to come out. Satisfyingly, it not only begins with a brief scandal sheet article ("DUKE AT DEATH'S DOOR?"), but all the chapters have titles similarly sensational and gossipy: "SOILED S. STOLEN! SCOUNDREL SUSPECTED!" and "SPOTTED IN SPROTBROUGH?" and "ROYAL ROGUE AND SOILED SOPHIE - WAR? OR MORE?" It was all rather delightful.
Never Judge a Lady By Her Cover remains my favorite Sarah MacLean book to date, but I still quite enjoyed The Rogue Not Taken. The second in this new series, A Scot in the Dark, has just been released.