Between the Devil and Desire by Lorraine Heath
Between the Devil and Desire is part of "Devil" series telling the tales of Feagan's gang of thieving children, although we are not hit over the head with the happy stories of previous couples (quite an achievement IMO). This is the story of their leader, and Feagan's favorite, Jack Dodger, the debauched owner of a gambling den/ brothel, and Olivia, the newly widowed former Duchess of Lovingdon who had been sadly neglected by her much older husband. The two meet when the Duke's will is read and to everyone's surprise Jack is awarded all of the non-entailed property, including the house Olivia is living in, and guardianship of Olivia's son Henry. Needless to say the two do not get along as Olivia is convinced that everything Jack does is disreputable and Jack takes great delight in needling her- mainly by taking from her all the things she had assumed would be hers but were left to him instead.
The two are crazy attracted to each other. Which bothers both of them; Jack because he does not want to be attracted to a woman who would expect more from him than money. and Olivia because Jack is not the quality of person she is supposed to be consorting with and because she is a stickler for what is proper. The love begins to grow as Olivia realizes that her preconceptions about Jack are mostly false and as Jack showers affection on Henry, but the "good to children" plot is well written and doesn't seem as though it's just there to make the character seem likable (as is the case in many romance novels). Questions arise over why Jack's mother abandoned him when he was a child and why Lovingdon chose a man he barely knew to inherit his estate and watch over his widow and the "investigation" is conducted so as not to overpower the romance in the book.
It is hard to think of parts of this book I didn't like- it was one of those romance novels that is just a little bland all around; nothing that one particularly hates and nothing that one finds particularly memorable. The hero and heroine had quite a bit of dialogue going on, but for the first hundred pages or so most of it tended toward the needling and irritating sort. Some people like this "bantering" but there's a limit to how far it should extend and I never really understood how a relationship could be based on constantly trying to get someone's ire up. The most angering part of this book was the historical context the book was set in; as a widow Olivia is at the complete mercy of her husband's will and when he turns control of her son (and thus all of the son's inherited estates) and everything else he owned Olivia is forced to confront her own powerlessness and Jack exploits this, although the author is careful not to have him be too mean at least. However, the ending discover, while interesting and somewhat shocking, kind of makes one a little squicky (it would definitely be a spoiler).
The best part of the book was the character Jack Dodger, although to be honest I almost found him more interesting in past books in the series than in this one. His past is certainly interesting and discovering what had happened to him when he was younger certainly explained some of his behaviors and made him a more nuanced character. Olivia was a little blander but the book delved deeply enough into her past to make her into a complex and likable character. And of course I liked the miniature investigations that were a necessary and important part of both characters' life experiences that didn't take over the book. Normally I would complain about no sex until about 2/3 through the book, but there was enough build up and enough continuation of it throughout the book that it wasn't a disappointment. Reviewers on amazon have commented that the book goes better as it goes on, which is definitely true as that is when the protagonists start realizing they like each other and the book becomes very character driven. And last but not least the five-year old boy was not a precocious romance novel child, but a real five-year old coping with the loss of his father, an overprotective mother, and an intriguing new gentleman in his life.
Rating: The book was sweet, well written and easily digestible but not something I'm going to find myself thinking about in the future or referring back to.