Haven Travis grew up in wealth and privilege, the only daughter in her powerful family. As such, she always felt pressured to conform to their wishes, while struggling to find herself and be free of their influence. While away at college she met and became engaged to a man who she thought was everything she wanted. But when Haven returned home for her brother, Gage's wedding, she was sorely disappointed to discover that her father didn't approve of her choice of a husband. He swore to cut her off from his money if she married him, and in an act of defiance, she did just that, changing the course of her life forever. Over the two years they were married, Haven's existence became increasingly more hellish each day, until she finally made her escape. With Gage's help, she sought a divorce and started putting the pieces of her life back together. Then the blue-eyed stranger with whom she shared an accidental but passionate kiss like none other she's ever experienced reappears, making it clear that he still wants her. But Haven isn't sure if she's ready to get involved with another man when she's just beginning to find peace after her husband's cruelty.
Hardy Cates grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in small-town Texas. Driven and ambitious, he worked his way up in the oil business, becoming a self-made millionaire. Married to his work, he's never settled down with a woman, instead earning a reputation as a consummate playboy. But on the night that he kissed Haven at Gage and Liberty's wedding, it was like nothing he'd ever felt before. Their instant chemistry made him ask her to go away with him, but she went off to marry another man instead. Now she's back in town, and Hardy can't get her off his mind. It takes all his powers of persuasion to get her to take a chance on him, but she's as skittish as a new filly around him. It makes Hardy wonder exactly what that bastard of an ex-husband did to her and whether he'll ever be able to get her to fully trust him with both her body and her heart.
I was rather appalled to discover that it's been nearly four years since I read Sugar Daddy, the first book in the Travis Family series, or any other Lisa Kleypas book for that matter. Apparently this is the year I get to catch up with a few old favorite authors who've somehow fallen by the wayside. Unfortunately, I now only remember bits and pieces of Sugar Daddy, but I do recall very much enjoying it, so between that and the outstanding ratings that Blue-Eyed Devil has, I've really been looking forward to reading it. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it a lot, but it just wasn't quite as perfect a read for me as it seems to have been for most other readers. I know that there's a pretty strong consensus among Lisa Kleypas fans that this is one of their favorite of her books, but this won't be the first time I've gone against the grain, and at least, this book was much better for me than the previous book I disagreed with other fans about. There were just a few little things that bothered me, which I'll get to in a moment.
Haven is the younger sister of Gage (Sugar Daddy) and the other Travis boys. Being from a wealthy Texas family and being the only girl in the family, her mother put a heavy burden on her shoulders to behave like a perfect lady, when Haven would have much preferred to be a tomboy. Also, being part of a family of controlling alpha males, I think she found it difficult to get an independent foothold and find herself. Going off to Wellesley, a liberal women's college, helped some. I liked that Haven wasn't stuck up in spite of being part of the powerful Travis family, and that she's someone who cares about other people. I also liked that she doesn't want to be perceived as taking favors from her family, and wants to work her way up and earn her position, not just be handed one by a family member. However, I think that Haven suffered to some extent from a lack of self-esteem due to the way she was raised and who her family is, and I think she was also eager to get away from them and make a life for herself. All that played into her marrying the wrong man, who ended up severely abusing her and nearly breaking her spirit. Like many women in that position, she initially thought it would get better and she was also too ashamed to tell the people in her life who would have cared for her. But eventually, she showed a lot of bravery and backbone in leaving her husband and getting a divorce. However, the whole experience has left her broken and afraid of getting involved with another man.
Hardy was the third wheel in the love triangle of Sugar Daddy, so readers got to know him pretty well in that book, although this far past reading it, I couldn't remember him very well. He turns out to be a pretty intense alpha male, not unlike Haven's brothers, and he's probably the reason so many readers ended up loving this book. I, on the other hand, am not usually a huge fan of alpha heroes unless they're the kind who have a soft gooey center.:-) Some of those alphas have captured my heart, but for the most part, I can only take them in small doses. Again, don't get me wrong, I did like Hardy a lot, but there were times that he was just a tad too alpha for my taste. I can't deny that he's a consummate seducer, and I like that he seemed to "get" Haven. The special gift he sent her showcases that beautifully. However, in their first almost love scene, he's quick to get angry and take things the wrong way when she pulled back, when a beta male would probably have been more in tune with her emotions and fears, probing to understand, instead of seeming to be focused on nothing but having sex with her. In their early interactions, he didn't seem to be thinking beyond the single-minded goal of bedding her. I admit that later on, Hardy could be a gentleman and was a little more perceptive than I initially gave him credit for. His patience and gentleness with Haven in helping her overcome her fears associated with sex was extremely commendable and one of my favorite parts of the book. But despite that I'm not quite sure I could pinpoint exactly when and why he fell in love with her. This is where I think only having Haven's first-person POV was a bit of a detractor. I wanted to be more inside Hardy's head to understand what he was feeling and thinking, not only about Haven and their relationship, but also about his own tortured past that seems to keep dogging him everywhere he goes and about which he was slow to open up.
Because at least two-thirds of the book is devoted to the hero and heroine's building relationship that has an HEA ending, I'm comfortable with classifying it as Contemporary Romance. However, some readers have placed this book in the Women's Fiction category, which I think is equally valid. Aside from Hardy and Haven sharing an accidental kiss in the first chapter, when she mistakes him for her fiancé in a darkened wine cellar, they don't have any other interactions for the first third of the book. During that time, the story focuses solely on Haven's increasingly abusive marriage and how she survives it and eventually gets out. I liked that Hardy and Haven's attraction was established very early on, but even with that, I felt like things moved a little too quickly between them. They share an instant combustible chemistry that can't be denied, but at times, it seemed to be more about their sexual tension and that drive toward their first love scene, when I wanted a few more getting-to-know-you moments. They don't actually get to the sexy scenes until the final third of the book, and admittedly they're very hot and sensuous as I would expect from Lisa Kleypas. While I can appreciate how Hardy and Haven took a step back for a little while, I still can't pinpoint exactly what it was that made Haven really trust Hardy. They both keep their pasts bottled up pretty tight with neither of them really telling the other much about what happened to emotionally damage them until very late in the story. Therefore, the connection between them, while definitely there, to me, felt more like a sexual one than the emotional one I was craving.
All that said, I did still enjoy Blue-Eyed Devil quite well and I would definitely be game for re-reading it at some point, so I didn't feel that marking off more than a half star would be appropriate. Even though their personalities were just enough removed from my own that perhaps I didn't quite 100% relate to them, I still liked Haven and Hardy. I'm also always up for a story that delves into the darker side of abusive relationships, and I have to give Ms. Kleypas kudos for her research into that area as well as narcissistic personality disorder and her ability to include it in the story in an organic way. Although I can tell they're every bit as alpha as Hardy, I'm looking forward to reading the stories for Haven's brothers, Jack and Joe. Jack's is next in Smooth-Talking Stranger, and I think it will be interesting to see what kind of woman it takes to finally pin down this commitment-phobic playboy who has a different woman on his arm every week.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook