Sunday, February 13, 2011

Review: Between the Devil and Desire by Lorraine Heath

Title: Between the Devil and Desire
Series: Scoundrels of St. James
Author: Lorraine Heath
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: January 1, 2009
Publisher: Avon
ISBN: 006135564X
ISBN-13: 9780061355646

London's most notorious rogue—decadent, depraved, forbidden

The ladies of the ton won't stop whispering about deliciously wicked Jack Dodger—once a thieving street urchin, now the wealthy owner of London's most exclusive gentleman's club. There's no pleasure he hasn't enjoyed, no debauchery the handsome scoundrel won't provide for the lords who flock to his house of carnal intrigue.

London's most virtuous lady—honorable, uncorrupted, and all too human

Olivia, Duchess of Lovingdon, would never associate with such a rogue. So when Jack is named sole heir to the duke's personal possessions, the beautiful, well-bred lady is outraged. Now, Olivia is forced to share her beloved home with this despicable man.

Caught between the devil and desire

But Olivia's icy disdain is no match for Jack's dangerous charm. His touch awakens desire. His kiss demands surrender. She will struggle to bar Jack from her heart . . . but her body, coveting divine release, will not let her bar him from her bed.

My rating:

Jack Dodger grew up on the streets. His mother sold him when he was only five and only luck and determination saved him. He escaped only to be found by Feagan, a kidsman, training children to pick pockets and survive on the streets. When he was ten, he saved his friend, Luke, now known as the Earl of Claybourne from a bad predicament in prison, earning his eternal friendship...And "permanent" sojourn in Luke's grandfather's house, education and an anonymous benefactor that enabled him to open his own business, an exclusive gentleman's club.

Now, Jack is a wealthy businessman, reviled by some, revered by most, and talked about by the ladies of the ton. One of those is Olivia, Duchess of Lovingdon. She knows of his reputation, she knows of his prowess with the ladies, she knows of his despicable nature, she thinks he's the very devil. And that very devil is sitting in her library one evening, participating in the reading of the will of her late husband, the Duke of Lovingdon.

Olivia doesn't know what her husband might have left such a seedy character as Mr. Dodger, but she sure hopes to get rid of him as soon as possible. Unfortunately her departed husband prevents anything of the sort by naming Jack Dodger as the guardian to his and Olivia's five-year-old son and owner of every not-entitled possession, including the house Olivia loves so much.
Whoever said one must not speak ill of the dead? Her husband must have gone stark raving mad before he died?

And Olivia just might be afflicted with the madness-bug as well, because despite everything she knows about Jack Dodger, she cannot help it but feel attracted to him, longing to know his touch, the taste of his kiss...
And the madness-bug is still at large, since Jack, despite him not standing the arrogant ladies of the ton, cannot help but feel a certain stirring whenever he looks at the widow...If it were only his "you-know-what" stirring, but it's his heart as well.

Yes, the terms of the will don't bode well for the two of them.

This book was yet another proof that Lorraine Heath is a master in writing deep, emotional, though-provoking, angsty, dark, sensual and romantic historical romances. When many think of this genre the usual template comes to mind. Lord/Baron/Viscount/Earl/Duke/etc. meets a Miss/widow/Lady/Countess/Duchess/etc. they resist their attraction for a couple of chapters, but they're soon making merry in a carriage/garden/darkened library/etc., and after a little more soul-searching decide to get married. Some author might throw in a murder mystery of some sorts to keep things lively, but that's pretty much it.

Well, Lorraine Heath has improved on the template. Sure, there still is nobility involved, there are mysteries, there is the attraction-fighting, there is romance...But her books have emotional depth, exploring many a dark theme like child abuse, poverty, orphans, rape, kidnapping, rookeries...Yet she does it with such aplomb the reader doesn't feel manipulated, but feels a connection, a bond with the characters and their inner demons and dark secrets of the past.

There are always scars on both sides (the hero and heroine), they're both flawed, but that more realistic because of their flaws. And they keep making mistakes throughout the story, making amends, making compromises, making the wrong decisions, learning forgiveness, learning how to trust, learning how to love, learning how to accept one another and themselves.
It might sound tough to read, but despite it all, these books are still made for our entertainment. They're written with HEA-hungry readers in mind, but delivering some strong and important lessons on the way there.

This book was one of them. And though nothing could ever beat In Bed With the Devil (the first book in this series), Jack and Olivia's story comes close second. It had everything I came to expect from Ms. Heath, and it delivered on its promise of entertainment while providing food for thought.

Dark, dramatic, angsty, sensual, deep, emotional, and romantic. A keeper!


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