Surrender to the Devil by Lorraine Heath
The third book in Heath's "Devil" series featuring the lovable reformed thieves of Feagan's gang of children features Frannie Darling, the only girl of the bunch and Sterling Mabry, the Duke of Greystone, the brother of Catherine who married Luke, the Earl of Claybourne in "In Bed with the Devil." The two meet at a party and have a damnable time keeping their eyes off each other until finally Sterling proposes the two become lovers. Luke, Jack, and Jim (the members of Feagan's gang) are instantly protective and try to warn off Sterling, but ultimately the decision is Frannie's. Frannie is opening an orphanage for the boys of the street and Sterling decides that a great way to get into her good graces is to help her out; monetarily and by not calling the constable when he is first pickpocketed by one of her orphans and then later after his house is burglarized. Frannie can't help but admire the changes that Sterling is undergoing as he begins to care for people other than himself.
As Frannie and Sterling grow closer neither wants to admit that their future is already pre-determined as they both know that a Duke cannot marry a commoner, especially one who has lived on the streets as a thief. Nevertheless the two cannot bring themselves to call an end to the relationship and they both start to realize they are falling in love with the other. Frannie loves the way that Sterling desires her, understands her, and treats as a woman while Sterling loves Frannie's unselfishness and strength. Unfortunately not everyone is as excited about Frannie's orphanage as she and Sterling are and Bill Sykes, who operates his own gang of child thieves in the rookeries and whose children are very much in need of rescuing. He makes it clear to Frannie that if she doesn't stop her good works he is more than willing to take matters into his own hands. After all is said and done Sterling decides to end their relationship for Frannie's sake as he does not want to saddle her with a man who is going blind, but when they meet up again at a fundraiser for the orphanage both know that they can't end their relationship that easily.
Both the prologue and epilogue of the novel consist of a journal entry Frannie has written. Both are completely undisguised information dumbs and I was disappointed with the prologue as I didn't think that it was necessary. Heath has always done a great job of skillfully weaving any necessary backstory, as well as incorporating the happily ever afters of previous couples, into her novels. And indeed she did in this novel which makes it even more odd that their was a prologue as it seemed entirely unnecessary. Sterling is "haunted" to an unbelievably great extent, because of a disagreement with his father over his failing eyesight. While going blind was certainly a new thing for a romance novel and would undoubtedly be an awful experience it just seemed a little off that a family was torn apart and he was determined never to marry because of it. I will also say that I absolutely adore the cover. All the books in the series have similar covers with different colors (pink and white) and this one is purple which is my favorite color.
Heath did an amazing job of dealing with Frannie's past as a young rape victim. Granted the way she dealt with Frannie's fear, having had her watch Jim with a prostitute through a peephole as the "made love," was a little unorthodox but I like how Frannie has evolved from a victim to a woman who realizes that passion isn't limited to what had happened to her. Heath is not the steamiest of authors although she always does a great job of building up tension between her characters. The scenario behind their love isn't all that unusual; man becomes a better person as he begins to fall in love with a woman and thus she begins to fall in love with him. I had a problem with "Between..." because of the unequal power dynamic between the characters, but that is not a problem at all in this book, despite Sterling's title. Frannie is confident, loving, and giving from the very beginning and it is Sterling who changes in completely believable ways, which makes the growing romance between the two realistic and incredibly fun to read about.
Rating: I really enjoyed this book. It was very pleasant and certainly went by fast. While I don't critically think it deserves four hearts I enjoyed it so much I can't give it anything less.