March 2006, European Historical Romance (1840s [Victorian] England)
Avon, $7.50, 363 pages, Amazon ASIN 006056251X Part of a series
Let me begin by stating that Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent, wins the award in my book for most anticipated future hero. As I finished reading It Happened One Autumn, I was stunned to discover that extreme bad boy Sebastian would be featured as the hero in its sequel and I must admit that I was enthralled by the idea. While I did wonder just how Kleypas could redeem such an immoral character, I didnít doubt that she would pull it off with style - my confidence in her abilities has certainly been rewarded. Although Devil in Winter is an engrossing romance, it is ultimately the story of Sebastianís redemption.
Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent, is debauched, amoral, and perversely proud of it. His chosen role of degenerate seducer always worked well for him Ė that is until he added kidnapping to his long list of villainous acts. Although he holds the title of viscount and is heir to a dukedom, it is a poor heritage that can no longer keep Sebastian and he needs to marry a fortune. He knows women find him dangerously attractive and his title alone makes him a desirable addition to many families, but Sebastian had once hoped to shortcut that whole process and after his latest debacle, can see no remedy for his financial plight.
Evie Jenner, daughter of the notorious gambling club owner Ivo Jenner, is in a rather desperate situation herself. An heiress of a large fortune, Evieís family is determined to force her to marry her revolting cousin and, even worse, she fears for her life once the deed is done. Barely escaping their clutches, the only viable solution she can see to her dilemma is to find someone whose desperation equals her own and marry quickly. Lord St. Vincent is an insufferable aristocrat with few scruples, but Evie thinks that such a man could be a fitting adversary for her relatives. If he agrees, he will undoubtedly make a terrible husband, but, since she cares nothing for him, Evie believes she can easily turn a blind eye to his indiscretions.
Arriving at Sebastianís door late that night, Evie forces her way into his home after he refuses to see her. As Sebastian ponders the lamblike creature standing before him, she proposes a marriage of convenience. Regarding Evie with veiled contempt, Sebastian contemplates that she might have made a decent match these past few years if not for her crippling shyness and torturous stammer. Her kind of innocence never fails to arouse his disdain, but as he sits taunting her, he knows her offer is a godsend to him and figures she either is a pea wit or has remarkable nerve.
Leaving for Gretna Green that very night, Sebastian soon discovers that Evie is actually quite stubborn and endures the trip with a resilience he wouldn't expect from someone who seems so fragile. Evie experiences a bit of a surprise herself at Sebastianís tender care as she sits freezing in the coach and he attempts to make her more comfortable. While traveling, much of his aristocratic hauteur melts away and, as she succumbs to the cold and exhaustion, he willingly holds her in his arms for most of the trip.
The majority of the book takes place at Jennerís gambling club and more than once references to Derek Craven are made, bringing to mind pleasant memories of Dreaming of You. Sebastian has never gambled to excess but certainly knows his way around a club such as Jennerís. Although short on funds, Sebastian isnít considered a spendthrift Ė itís just that a profession wherein he could earn money seemed to be such a personal inconvenience. His desires for his life appear to be undergoing some serious changes, but what is most disturbing to Sebastian is the extraordinary effect Evie has on him and the jealously he feels any time she is near another man.
Sebastian warned Evie that she was a fool to trust him, but, despite his best efforts to prove how contemptible he truly is, trust seems to be the direction they are headed. When he realizes she doesnít stammer around him because she feels comfortable, it amuses him to think anyone could consider him the comfortable sort and assures himself he will correct her impression in the future by doing something diabolical. Although Sebastian is an unexpectedly kind husband, he isnít shy about demanding Evieís obedience - what little good it does him since her nature can hardly be called biddable. I canít honestly categorize Sebastian as a purely alpha hero Ė he is better described as insensitive and selfish with an alpha bark and a serious learning curve.
Third in the Wallflower series, Devil in Winter abounds with secondary characters. Lord Westcliffe from It Happened One Autumn plays a strong role, but it is the introduction of Cam Rohan, the half-gypsy factotum at Jenner's who has future hero written all over him, that most intrigues me. Daisy's book and the last in the series, Scandal in Spring is scheduled for release later in 2006.
A few Lisa Kleypas 1990s books are among my all-time favorite romances. In my mind her last few releases are missing some of the distinctiveness and boldness of her earlier books, but Devil in Winter clearly stands out as the best amongst this latest group. Only my frustration with several overused plot devices kept this from a solid A grade.
In the end, I was totally captivated by Sebastian Ė a bone-melting hero whose wickedness only enhanced his overall character. Although extreme opposites in more ways than one, Evie and Sebastian experienced little conflict and communicated openly and honestly, a rarity it seems these days. And Sebastian? It seems that he reforms...well, enough anyway.
-- Lea Hensley
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