Running from a secret past that haunts her, Aubrey Montford goes to Elias Lorimer, an old wartime friend of her father's, seeking employment as his housekeeper. Owing a debt of gratitude to Aubrey's father, the old codger hires Aubrey and respects her wishes that he not question her motives. Aside from the occasional battle of wills with Elias, Aubrey and her son lived peacefully at Castle Cardow for three years, until one day, the old man was mysteriously shot dead. As the only person in the house at the time of the incident and the one who found Elias' body, Aubrey ends up being the prime suspect in a murder investigation, which could expose her real reasons for being there and take her back to a dark and terrifying place to which she has no desire to return. But salvation may come in the unexpected form of Elias's nephew, the castle's true master.
For Giles Lorimer, the Earl of Walrafen, Castle Cardow holds many unpleasant memories he doesn't wish to relive. As a result, he has spent years ignoring his family seat. He tried to dismiss the repeated letters from his uncle's housekeeper as nothing more than nagging, but something about the missives drew him in. When his uncle is murdered and Giles has no choice but to return home, he is surprised to discover that the author of the letters is a very beautiful young woman. Giles is instantly smitten and with a slow deliberateness, seduces Aubrey into his bed. It doesn't take long for Giles to realize that Aubrey isn't all that she seems, but deep down he knows that she must have good reasons for the lies she's told. He sets about trying to uncover the truth and showing Aubrey in every way he knows how that he is not the enemy and can be trusted with her secrets.
I'm not sure why I haven't picked up a Liz Carlyle romance in a while, probably just because I've been too busy with review books and other novels that caught my attention. She has never yet failed to give me a great read, and A Deal with the Devil was no exception. It was a pleasure to see Giles, a character I'd really liked in A Woman of Virtue, finally get his HEA. Even though it had been a long time since I'd read one of Liz Carlyle's books, I managed to almost instantly fall right back into step with her complex character web, and really enjoyed visiting with some of the characters from her previous novels.
When the story opens, Giles is obviously still holding a tendre for his former stepmother, Cecilia, a woman who he had pursued in A Woman of Virtue and the heroine of that book. Giles does grudgingly like and respect her husband, David, but he simply never quite got over loosing Cecilia to his father, her first husband. He also holds some strong unpleasant memories associated with his father and the castle that is his family seat. When Aubrey takes over as housekeeper of Cardow and begins plaguing him with letters regarding problems at the castle, Giles tries to dismiss them as nothing but nagging, but they clearly have a deeper effect on him. The reader can almost see him beginning to fall in love with her before he's ever met her. Giles can be a bit blustery when he's upset or annoyed, but he has a very sensitive, caring side too. I really liked that he was an involved politician who truly wanted to make a difference in the lives of his fellow countrymen. Once Giles meets Aubrey, he can scarce stay away from her even though he feels rather guilty for becoming involved with his employee. What I loved and admired most about Giles was the way he always believed in Aubrey and his incredible patience in waiting for her to be ready to tell him the truth. Even when the evidence started stacking up against her and everyone else thought her guilty of murder and even when some of her lies were exposed, he never wavered in his conviction that she was innocent and had good reasons for not telling him the whole story. For me, an immutable trust like that is a very romantic thing. On top of that, he was even willing to marry Aubrey before she had told him everything, just to quell any potential gossip, in spite of what it might have done to his career and social status.
Aubrey was a very strong woman who had been through experiences so horrifying it made her desperate enough to want to work as a mere servant in a dreary old castle for a temperamental codger like Elias. She showed her intelligence by calling upon Elias to fulfill an old debt to her father, asking him to take her on as housekeeper without asking questions and wouldn't take no for an answer. Then she immediately set about remaking the castle into a place where Giles was eventually able to start feeling at home again even after so many years away and so many painful memories. Aubrey wasn't afraid to go toe to toe with Elias and then with Giles too when he arrives. She is a very caring mother to Iain, always protecting him and looking out for his welfare above all. Underneath her stoic facade though, Aubrey holds many deep, dark secrets which make her feel as if the weight of the world is upon her shoulders. When she begins to connect with Giles, Aubrey is like a sponge, soaking up all his passion and affection like a woman starving, and in an emotional way, she was. I became a tad frustrated with her unwillingness to fully trust Giles with her story or to marry him, especially when Giles proved over and over how much he believed in her and trusted her implicitly. I sort of felt like she should be giving back to him in kind, but eventually, I realized that the ordeal she had been through was so terrifying, she didn't feel like she could trust anyone but herself, and she was also trying to protect Giles from the scandal of being involved with someone like her.
Giles and Aubrey have a really beautiful relationship. I loved all of the quiet, little, getting to know you moments they shared, like in the stable during the rainstorm. When they first met, this couple had a pretty contentious relationship which made the sparks fly every time they tried to talk about almost anything, but I completely understood why each of them harbored some ill feelings toward the other. It was also an obvious sign of their underlying attraction. When they finally gave in to that attraction, their first love scene admittedly wasn't quite perfect. There were a couple of bumps in the road, but it was still one of the most beautiful love scenes I've ever read. Liz Carlyle is incredibly talented at writing hot, sexy scenes that really make the pages sizzle.
As I mentioned before, I very much enjoyed revisiting some past characters. Cecilia and David (A Woman of Virtue) were there to support Giles in his time of grief. Lady Isabel Kirton, a secondary character throughout Liz Carlyle's books was mentioned early and then popped in for a cameo during the epilogue. Max (No True Gentleman) came at Giles request and put his sleuthing skills to work investigating Elias' mysterious death. He was accompanied by the scene-stealing George "Kem" Kemble, another long-time secondary character. As always, Kem was hilarious with his fussiness, and the way he can slickly get information out of almost anyone is pure genius. No wonder they want him along on investigations.:-)
A Deal with the Devil pretty much had it all: a wonderful hero and heroine, a fabulous supporting cast, some mystery and intrigue, heart-stopping romance, and a passionate love affair. Everything simply came together to make this another great read from Liz Carlyle's fertile imagination. I can't wait to continue reading her books, so I'll have to try harder to not set her aside for so long next time.
Note: Ms. Carlyle's didn't used to officially consider her books as series, but recently she began grouping them together on her website. A Deal with the Devil is now listed as book #4 in the Lorimer Family & Clan Cameron 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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