Frederica d'Avillez has just endured a disastrous first season in London. Few men even expressed an interest in this lovely beauty and not a single one made an offer for her hand. She decided to return to her country home where the squire's son, Johnny, had at least said he loved her and wanted to marry her, but during a midnight rendezvous, Johnny tells Freddie that he has been given no choice by his father who wishes him to marry his cousin. Upset and angry, Freddie is now convinced that no man will want her, because in spite of her generous dowry, she is still nothing but a lowly illegitimate orphan. Frustrated and trying to prevent a flood of tears, Freddie stalks through the estate garden whipping every tree and plant in sight with her riding crop, until she very nearly hits Bentley Rutledge.
Bentley is her cousin Gus's best friend and a frequent visitor to their home of Chatham Lodge. He has admired Freddie for years, but his loyal friendship with Gus and his own rakish reputation has forced him to think of her only as a sister and put aside any other notions he might have about her. A playful Christmas kiss under the mistletoe a few months earlier though had sparked something a bit deeper in both of them. Now here they were alone in the garden in the dead of night, and Freddie was very obviously upset. Counting Bentley as a friend, Freddie tells him about what just transpired with Johnny and everything she has been feeling lately. The tears finally begin to flow unbidden, and if there is one thing Bentley can't bear, it's a woman crying. He gently gathers her into his arms and let's her expend her hurt and frustration on his shoulder. When the tears finally stop, Freddie feels so safe and cared for in his arms that she innocently reaches up to give him a kiss. This simple act unleashes a firestorm of emotion and desire within both of them which leads to a night of passion that neither of them ever could have dreamed of.
When Bentley awakens in her bed near dawn the next morning, he is filled with conflicting emotions. He feels guilty for taking her virtue, and yet her innocent passion and acceptance of him has awakened the secret desires of his heart. Bentley may be a rake, but he is also a gentleman. Even though he is frightened by the potential loss of his freedom, he is determined to do the right thing and propose marriage. Bentley can't bear to wake the peacefully sleeping Freddie, and so instead he agonizes over writing the perfect proposal in a letter which he places on her windowsill. He had intended to return to his own room and wait for the rest of the house to wake up, thus taking the consequences of his actions like a man, but he hears the chambermaid coming up the stairs to Freddie's room and knows that he can't be caught with her. To protect her reputation, he instead leaps out her window, and since the house is locked leaving no way back in, he simply leaves, knowing that he had told Freddie in the note where he could be found. Unfortunately, Bentley was not the only thing that flew out the window that morning.
Several weeks pass during which neither one can seem to forget the other. When Bentley hears from a friend that Freddie is to be married to a distant relative on the Continent, he once again feels the conflicting emotions. He just can't understand why Freddie never contacted him about his own proposal, so he decides to sneak into a ball he knows she will be attending. Thinking that Bentley had simply left her in the middle of the night and had wanted nothing more than physical passion, Freddie basically rebuffs him. Bentley leaves the ball hurt and confused, but as he thinks about everything that has transpired and remembers pieces of a conversation that he had with Freddie's cousin Zoe, the puzzle comes together and he realizes that Freddie is pregnant. Knowing that he can't lose Freddie or his child, Bentley resorts to drastic measure to convince her guardian Lord Rannoch to allow a marriage and more importantly, to convince Freddie that he will do everything in his power to be a good husband and father. Freddie isn't totally convinced, but finally acquiesces. Bentley almost immediately begins to show some surprisingly thoughtful gestures though, and it doesn't take long for Freddie to think that their marriage may have a chance after all. However, a trip to his childhood home causes Bentley to have increasingly dark moods. He also begins to have nightmares and behave very strangely, giving Freddie cause for concern. Freddie is a highly intelligent woman though, who uses her wits and innate sensitivity to solve the increasingly complex puzzle of Bentley's past that has left him bound in dark secrets for most of his life.
The Devil You Know is quite possibly the most truly romantic book I have ever read. It is a poignant story of love in the face of seemingly impossible odds, redemption, and facing the pain of the past so that recovery can begin. There is so much to love about this book, I hardly know where to start. The beautiful romance of the hero and heroine began as a beautiful friendship, yet it was a somewhat different friendship than what has been present in some of Liz Carlyle's other books, as the initial development of it was off-canvas. I also found it wonderful that yet another of Ms. Carlyle's heroes found peace and a sense of belonging in the warmth of Chatham Lodge, the lovely country home full of an eclectic mix of characters that played such a big part in My False Heart. The story contains one heart-stopping romantic scene after another that fairly made me swoon: Bentley (with Kem's help of course) pulling together a beautiful wedding in only a day; Bentley laying his head on Freddie's tummy and talking to their unborn child; Bentley holding and worriedly watching over Freddie while she is in the throes of morning sickness; Bentley and Freddie picnicking in his favorite spot in the whole world while discussing their future, just to name a few. The story is packed cover to cover with non-sexual scenes just like these which express the main character's love for and devotion to each other in wonderfully creative ways, as well as beautifully sensual and passionate love scenes. There are also some really adorable and heartwarming scenes such as the ones between Bentley and his nieces and nephews (he's wonderful with kids), and Bentley's brother, Cam laying on the floor of his library talking with his wife while kittens are crawling all over him. Everything simply comes together to create a beautifully crafted story.
I think Bentley Rutledge is now my all-time favorite romance hero, and the Rutledge brothers together top my list even though they are two very different characters. As Frederica tells him near the end of the story, he is "the sweetest, kindest, most perfect man" ever. Even as a mere secondary character in three previous books (Beauty Like the Night, A Woman of Virtue, & No True Gentleman), he could easily steal every scene he was in. I have to admit that I liked Bentley so much in the other stories that I had a little trepidation about whether the author would get it right when she wrote Bentley's own story. With it being in Ms. Carlyle's capable and talented hands, I should never have worried. She wrote the perfect story for him. The image Bentley projects in public is that of the jaded blackguard, a dissolute rake, but even in the earlier books, I knew there was much more to him than meets the eye. There are just so many layers to his character, that I don't think any other author I've read has created a character with so much depth. I have read that Bentley is Ms. Carlyle's favorite hero, and it most certainly shows in the care she used in crafting him. He is an incredibly genuine character that came to life so vividly, it almost seems that he truly exists somewhere. Most of the people around Bentley think that he is something of a failure and a screw-up who never thinks about his future, because that is the only side of himself that he usually allows others to see. He frequently sabotages himself, because he subconsciously doesn't think himself worthy of happiness and success. He has heaped guilt upon himself for a horrible incident from the past for which he clearly bears no responsibility, a tortured hero in the truest sense of the word. Yet, when he is thinking clearly, he is an incredibly intelligent man with a tender, sensitive heart who has so much to offer to anyone who takes the time and effort to recognize his true worth.
Frederica is just such a woman. Even though she didn't want to marry Bentley at first because of his reputation, she had to admit that he was the sweetest man she had ever known. To convince her, Bentley had offered a six-month trial marriage, but it didn't take long for Freddie to realize that she wanted nothing more than a lifetime with this wicked charmer. When Bentley's moods turn black and he starts disappearing for long stretches of time, Freddie is patient and understanding, gently encouraging him to open up to her about what troubles him. Although Bentley is not very forthcoming at first, Freddie is a highly intelligent and intuitive woman. She slowly begins to gather bits and pieces of information and eventually puts together the puzzle that is Bentley's past. When all is finally revealed, she shows an incredible sensitivity toward him, and yet also exhibits unflinching strength and courage in the face of unspeakable evil. I also like the strong yet gentle hand Freddie takes with her occasionally errant husband, making it clear that she won't put up with any disrespectful or irresponsible behavior on his part. As an illegitimate orphan, Freddie has had some difficulties of her own to overcome, but she was raised in a household brimming to the rafters with love and is able to bring the light of that love into Bentley's dark and tortured world, giving him a much-deserved new beginning.
The Devil You Know was a veritable reunion of characters from Ms. Carlyle's past books, which gives her fans insight into where these characters are anywhere from a few to several years down the road. Freddie first appeared in My False Heart and from that book readers can also become reacquainted with Elliot and Evie, as well as secondary characters Winnie, Gus, Theo, Michael, Zoe and the servants of Chatham Lodge and Strath House. Elliot's former valet George Kemble, who also was first seen in My False Heart, makes a couple of appearances in The Devil You Know lending much-needed assistance to Bentley in acquiring appropriate formal attire for a ball and making wedding plans on extremely short notice. Kem also appears in A Woman of Virtue, No True Gentleman, A Deal with the Devil, and The Devil to Pay. From Beauty Like the Night there is Cam, Helene and Catherine as well as the secondary characters of Ariane, Basil, Joan, Queenie, and the servants of Chalcote Manor. Catherine also appeared in No True Gentleman along with the eccentric, fortune-telling Signora Castelli who put in another appearance in The Devil You Know. Also from No True Gentleman, as well as A Woman of Virtue, there are Cole, Robert, and Stuart. Other characters from the aforementioned books are also present in the background and mentioned by name, but have no dialog.
It is rare that a book touches me so deeply that I laugh out loud or cry. The Devil You Know was just such a book. There was a scene in the book which showcased the Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus concept that was straight out of a romantic comedy. I was so amused by it that I had to tell my husband about it and was still laughing about it in my mind hours later. Then, the last couple of chapters of the book brought tears to my eyes, because they were just so incredibly moving and unforgettable. I truly felt that Bentley's self-destructive behavior as a reaction to his past was very realistically rendered. When I am in the midst of reading a book, I often think ahead to how I would like the story to progress. When the story actually goes the way I envisioned, I know I have just read a truly good one. It isn't a matter of the book being simple or predictable. It's a connection of the reader to the author and her characters, which is something I rarely feel as strongly as I did while reading this book. The Devil You Know is the type of story that stays with the reader long after the last page has been turned. In fact, I found myself heartily wishing there was more. It is a rare piece of literary perfection about which I can honestly find absolutely nothing to criticize. It exceeded all my expectations and has forever earned a place on my keeper shelf to be re-read many times in the future. If you have never read this book, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Note: Ms. Carlyle's didn't used to officially consider her books as series, but recently she began grouping them together on her website. The Devil You Know is now listed as book #3 in the Rutledge Family series. However, I would advise readers that Ms. Carlyle's character web is very complex, with past and future characters popping up throughout all of her books. With this in mind, it is my opinion that the reading experience would be greatly enhanced by beginning with Ms. Carlyle's first book, My False Heart, and continuing to read them in their publication order. The entire backlist, in order, can be found on her website.
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