2008, Contemporary Romance
St. Martin's, $21.95, 333 pages, Amazon ASIN 031235164X Part of a series
It’s rare that I purchase a new release hardback and even rarer if I am at the bookstore looking to buy it on the day of its release. But after the pure delight I experienced while reading Sugar Daddy, Lisa Kleypas’s first foray into contemporary writing, I was eager for more and especially intrigued to see Hardy in the role of leading man. Blue-Eyed Devil is, in essence, a continuation of the first book (more so than most sequels), picking up where the first leaves off and maintaining significant involvement of many of the original characters.
Hardy Cates is a hero some readers may consider beyond redemption after his hijinks in the previous book. But this is, after all, the author who redeemed one of the most villainous heroes of all, Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent, in The Devil in Winter. Hence, I knew Kleypas was more than capable of transforming Hardy, who is merely egotistical and ruthless, into a compelling hero.
Haven Travis is a poor little rich girl, looking for her place in the world, considered frivolous by her father, and at odds with him on about every issue. Looking for the sense of acceptance she longs for, Haven marries Nick Tanner against her father’s wishes and is summarily cut off from the family’s wealth. Haven’s marriage becomes a frightening descent into a world of manipulation and cruelty wherein she is slowly stripped of her identity. This compelling (and tearful) portion of the book adequately sets the stage for the bulk of the story.
It is difficult to review this particular book without giving away a portion of the plot. The end of Haven’s marriage to Nick eventually brings about reconciliation with her family and her reentry into Houston society. Brother Jack takes Haven under his wing, insisting she work for his company, live in his building, and accompany him for a drink one night after work. Haven prefers to hide, not socialize, but she wills herself to endure the crush of patrons at the bar until she spots the devil-blue-eyed man she had tried to forget from an earlier encounter. At the sight of Hardy Cates, her world seems to come to a standstill, her pulse begins to hammer too hard, and all she understands is that she must get away from him. She knows it will take years of therapy before she is ready for the likes of him.
But Hardy is not easily deterred. A self-made millionaire, he made it to the top of Houston’s oil industry through sheer tenacity and the willingness to play rough if necessary. He hasn’t forgotten Haven and is determined to see more of her despite her protestations. It’s not long before Hardy develops an interest in one of the more exclusive apartments in the building where Haven both works and lives.
As one who loves bad boys turned barely good, Hardy is a tailor-made hero for me. Written in first person, the opening page describes Hardy, as seen through the eyes of Haven, and such a first look at the hero instantly engaged my interest for the entire book.
”He stood with the insolent, loose-jointed slouch of someone who’d rather spend his time in a pool hall. Although he was well-dressed, it was obvious he didn’t make his living sitting behind a desk. No amount of Armani tailoring could soften that build – big framed and rugged – like a roughneck or a bull rider… But it was the eyes that seized my attention, blue even at a distance, a volatile color you could never forget once you’d seen it… Those blue eyes glinted with an uncivilized suggestion.”
As I reflect on Hardy’s absolute sexual appeal, the reappearance of a number of my favorite characters from Sugar Daddy, and the capacity for a challenging, chemistry-dripping romance, it is all overshadowed by the fact that first and foremost, this is a story of recovery. Spousal abuse is a tough issue, no matter in what form it presents itself, and I think that is especially true in a romance setting wherein some readers may believe the issue is dealt with either too swiftly or easily. But this is not the equivalent of Anna Quindlen’s Black and Blue - nor do I believe it was ever meant to be. And not only was I thankful for that but I, for one, was relieved when Kleypas chose to move on.
For the most part Haven had my complete sympathy as I applauded each stage of her recovery, but she had an aura of entitlement that at times made her come across as a spoiled little rich girl despite her struggles. On occasion her romance with Hardy appeared full of promise only to seem rather empty at other times and I couldn’t decide if this was due to Haven’s need for further recovery or her compulsion to be rude to Hardy in particular.
As I finished reading the last page, it surprised me to realize that this book wouldn’t find a place on my personal DIK list (although it is one I am certain to read again). I finally concluded that it was the contrived ending - wherein characters experienced temporary personality changes - that dealt the blow to lower the grade to the B range.
But, of course, the high expectations and comparisons to Sugar Daddy are inevitable and there it falls short as well. Although Blue-Eyed Devil is much more of a romance than its prequel, it wasn’t the absolutely unforgettable book I longed for.
-- Lea Hensley
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