Aleric Hilliard, the Marquess of Devellyn is one of the most dissolute rakes in the ton. He and his older brother, Greg, used to raise hell together, until a disagreement over a woman led to a fight between the brothers and Greg's accidental death. Dev blames himself for it, and his guilt is multiplied by his estrangement from his father who also blames him for the loss of his eldest son and heir. Even though Dev will now one day become Duke, father and son haven't spoken to each other in years. Dev also can't keep a woman, even one he's paying, around for more than a few months, and his latest mistress left in a huff after throwing a colossal tantrum that all the neighbors could hear. Dev is quite simply wandering aimlessly through life, doing little but drinking, gambling and womanizing, until an encounter with the infamous Black Angel gives him something tantalizing on which to focus his energy.
By day, Sidonie Saint-Godard is a mild-mannered widow who teaches young ladies of the merchant class proper deportment. By night, she masquerades as the Black Angel, avenging wrongdoings, especially those perpetrated against women, and robbing from the haves to give to the have-nots. Living across the street from the house where Dev keeps his mistresses, she can't help but witness the commotion when his latest mistress leaves. Convinced that he must be a terrible person to have gone through so many women so quickly, she contrives to snare him in one of her traps. In disguise as Ruby Black, a lady of the evening, she lures him into a private room at a tavern, where she proceeds to seduce him, rob him, and leave him tied to the bed naked. When Sidonie has occasion to get to know Dev as herself, she gradually comes to realize that he isn't really the cad he seemed to be. Soon she's feeling guilty for what she did to him and looking for an opportunity to return the items she stole from him. Although reluctant at first to admit her attraction, it's hard for her to deny that Dev's touch makes her body burn and her heart yearn for things she knows she can't have. Sidonie fears revealing her secret identity will ruin what she's built with Dev, but when the authorities start closing in on the Black Angel, he may be the only person besides her brother, whom she can trust with her life.
I have no idea how I keep managing to allow so much time to pass between reading Liz Carlyle's book. Somewhere in the past three years, I squeezed in one of her novellas, but I was shocked to discover that it's been that long since I last read one of her full-length novels. I really need to stop doing that, because thus far, she's never failed to enchant me with her stories and The Devil to Pay was no exception. I absolutely loved this story of a seemingly proper widow who's harboring a very high-profile secret identity and the rakish, scandalous Marquess who's finally met his match. From their opening scene together, they set the pages on fire and their romance certainly doesn't disappoint. I also very much enjoyed learning more about long-time secondary character, George Kemble. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was always excited to get back to it each time I had to put it down.
Our heroine, Sidonie, is George's sister, and both of them are the illegitimate children of a duke and his mistress. They also both struggled a lot with their identity growing up. With no father to guide her and her mother sending her away to live with grandparents, who then sent her to a convent school in France, Sidonie harbors some resentment toward her mother. She eventually ran away and married a sea captain, spending most of her marriage to him sailing the globe. When her husband died, she put down roots in England, where she now lives under the guise of a proper widow who teaches young ladies of the merchant class proper deportment so they might snag a titled husband. She has an adventurous spirit, though, and when she witnessed a young woman being mistreated, it reminded her of what her own mother went through as a young woman. With the help of her companion, who was also a close friend of her mother's and an accomplished actress, Sidonie took up the disguise of the Black Angel, under which she imparts justice to those in positions of power - mostly men - who've wronged others, particularly women and children. I absolutely loved Sidonie's avenging angel persona. She's almost like a historical version of a super-hero. She's not always infallible, though, and when she witnesses yet another of the Marquess of Devellyn's mistresses leaving the house across the street in a huff, she mistakenly assumes he's a terrible person to have driven so many women away. What she does to him in retaliation for his perceived slights is LOL funny and completely priceless, but when he moves into the house vacated by his mistress and Sidonie starts to get to know the man on a more personal basis, she can't help feeling guilty for what she did to him. She sees into Devellyn's heart and understands him better than he understands himself, but she wishes she didn't see so much. He tempts her beyond belief, but she believes nothing can ever come of it without revealing her secret identity which she refuses to do. Another thing I found refreshing about Sidonie is that she's a hot-blooded, passionate woman who fully embraces her own sexuality and desires. She's a perfect match for Devellyn in more ways than one.
Aleric Hilliard, the Marquess of Devellyn, is a dissolute rake. He's described in the cover blurb as "the least noble nobleman in ton, who uses and discards women as he pleases." This didn't make him sound very appealing (and I might mention it's not entirely accurate), so I wasn't sure how well I would warm up to him. I shouldn't have worried, because right from the outset, Devellyn is quite amusing. He also shows some vulnerabilities early on that go far beyond his cavalier attitude and give him a lot of depth. First of all, he harbors a fair bit of guilt over his involvement in the accidental death of his brother, which was only compounded by his father shutting him out after that. Secondly, the reality of his situation with the women in his life is that they always leave him, not the other way around, so he wonders if he might be unlovable. In fact, he seems bothered by the fact that he can't keep a woman - even one he's paying - around for more than a few months. Dev also knows that his size is intimidating and he's not the charmer that his best friend, Alasdair, is. After his run-in with the Black Angel, Dev vows revenge against her, but at the same time, he can't stop thinking about how she made him burn with desire. Unfortunately, the same is true of his lovely neighbor, Sidonie, which leaves him wondering what's wrong with him that he so desperately wants two very different women at the same time. Even though he's strongly attracted to Sidonie, he believes he's not good enough for her. Despite being the heir to a dukedom, he's lived the life of a rakehell, courting scandal everywhere he goes, so he feels like he would taint her by association. Dev is a very complex hero, and I enjoyed watching all the different facets of his personality unravel as the story progressed.
As is typical for Liz Carlye's books, she has some common characters that play secondary roles. As always, I loved George. He's been a scene-stealer throughout many of her books, and never fails to entertain me. In this one, we get to see deeper into his background and learn a little more of how he came to be the best purveyor of information on just about anyone in the entire country. George has always been an eclectic character, a man with many different facets. Here we get a glimpse of his dark side, and on the flip side of things, we also see a touch of his personal life and it was nice to see him settled down with a special "friend." Another character who keeps popping up in Ms. Carlyle's books is Isabel, Lady Kirton. In this one, she's bosom beaus with Dev's mother, and as one of the main forces behind the Nazareth Society, she soon figures out Sidonie's secret identity, when Sidonie brings some of her spoils to the charity home. Isabel also conspires with Dev's mother to get him and Sidonie together. Last but certainly not least, Dev's best friend, the charming, outgoing Alasdair MacLachlan played a significant role. I really liked him, so I'll look forward to seeing what kind of heroine it takes to make him settle down in his book, One Little Sin, which is the next in the series.
Overall, I found The Devil to Pay to be a fun, flirty, emotional, and sexy read. I really liked both Aleric and Sidonie, while their story was something a little different than most historical romances, especially the way they meet. Their love scenes are laden with intense, deep feelings that perfectly express their burgeoning love, while also being very steamy. The secondary characters helped to build the hero and heroine, as well as add flavor to the story. The ending was sweet and wrapped everything up in a neat little bow. So for me, this book was a perfect read that I would highly recommend.
Note: Ms. Carlyle didn't used to officially consider her books as series, but somewhat recently she began grouping them together on her website. The Devil to Pay is now listed as book #1 in the MacLachlan Family & Friends series. However, I would advise readers that Ms. Carlyle's character web is very complex, with past and future characters popping up throughout most of her books. With this in mind, it is my opinion that the reading experience would be greatly enhanced by beginning with her 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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