Don't Bargain with the Devil by Sabrina Jeffries
Lucinda "Lucy" Seton heads off to teach at Mrs. Harris' Finishing School after her life long sweetheart dumps her for a "proper lady" and calls her a hotblooded hoyden. She is distraught but her father, Colonel Seton, and his new wife abide by her wishes and leave her at the school. However when Diego Montalvo threatens to buy the property next door and turn it into a pleasure garden everyone at the school is furious that this could potentially ruin the school. Diego is a world renowned magician who has an ulterior motive: he has been sent by Lucy's "real" grandfather, a Spanish marquess, to find her and bring her back in order to win back his family estate. Her grandfather told Diego that Lucy had been kidnapped by her mother's nurse and her lover and Lucy's adopted father helped them and then adopted Lucy when the nurse and her lover died. Lucy had been told by her father, the Colonel, that he had adopted her after her parents died. The first time Lucy and Diego meet neither knows who the other is and he discovers her asprawl on the ground outside. He uses the threat of exposing her immodest behavior to blackmail him into spending time with him.
Diego has no intention of opening a pleasure garden but it creates a great means of getting Lucy's attention and their are definite sparks between the two of them. From garden trysts to steamy scenes behind the curtain before one of his shows these two have difficulties keeping their hands off each other. But when Lucy hears of Diego's less than savory past as a camp follower/ thief/ cardsharp she refuses to have anything to do with him until once again he (essentially) blackmails her. This time he lays out what he knows about her being kidnapped as a child and then kidnaps her himself when she wants to talk to her father and find out the truth. On the ship she is of course furious, especially when she comes to believe her grandfather only wants her for a broodmare and so she throws herself at Diego in order to lose her virginity and her viability as a wife to a Spanish nobleman. Lucy realizes she's in love but believes Diego only wants her to assuage his sense of honor and does not want to risk him losing his estate. In Spain only a short while, Lucy's father joins them and the 3 men are forced to come together over their differences and sort out the truth of Lucy's past and Diego and Lucy deal with their own feelings towards each other.
On about the 20th page our protagonists meet and we discover that Diego has a mustache- a thin mustache. I told myself to just ignore this and pretend I hadn't read it, but I was unable to do this. Everytime he was mentioned I just pictured the bad guy from the movie "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (with Dick van Dyck) and numerous other villians with similarly awful thin mustaches. However it was kind of interesting to read about a hero with facial hair as they don't often appear in romance novels; unfortunately I would have preferred anything other than a thin dark mustache. The other jarring instance in this book came at the way end when 20 year-old Lucy calls her stepmother of one year "mother" after just learning the truth about her parentage. Who would do this? The little speech by her stepmother was also rather jarring as she claimed that nothing the Colonel said could make her not love him. This was a ridiculous thing to say after just learning your husband has lied to his daughter her entire life, not to mention, being in the army, I'm sure he could say some awful things. I guess one jarring thing at the beginning and one at the end just kind of adds sour bookends to the whole book.
The steamy scenes are certainly steamy and there's enough lead up to keep anybody happy- I always like it when lead in scenes include the guy getting (or at least almost getting) some action as well as the lady. I would probably give this book 3 1/2 kisses for steam (out of 5 of course) as there isn't very much variety and is full of "Dios Mios"- as is the rest of the book. The kidnapping plot/s worked very well in book- indeed there would not have been a book without it/ them and played well with the romance which was, fortunately and appropriately, the center of the story. I am also very much looking forward to reading Mrs. Harris's own romance with "Cousin Michael" next month so the author did a fabulous job setting that up. However, the book did get dragged down several times when Lucy believed that Diego loved her and then something (sometimes something ridiculous) and she would completely doubt him. It got a little old by the 3rd time that happened.
Rating: When rethinking this book I thought of so many things I disliked, however while reading it I did enjoy the book from the plot, to the characters who were well-developed and had a great relationship with each other, to the steam.