The Baldwine family has never been close-knit, but since the death of family patriarch, William, they've been in shambles and the family-owned Bradford Bourbon Company isn't doing any better. William's death was originally ruled a suicide until Edward, the eldest Baldwine son, came forward claiming it was murder and confessing to the crime. Now Edward, who is broken in both body and spirit, is sitting in jail awaiting arraignment while pining for Sutton Smythe, the love of his life. Before making his confession, he tried to push her away, knowing that he'll probably be in prison for the rest of his life, but Sutton isn't entirely buying it and is still deeply in love with him, too. But no matter what evidence is presented, Edward is stubbornly sticking to his story.
Youngest son, Lane, never expected to be in charge of the company, but he's unwittingly found himself in exactly that position. He's trying his best to hold the business and the family together. Although he has his love, Lizzie, to help keep him grounded and sane, it hasn't been easy. His sister, Gin, has always been selfish and barely knows her teenage daughter born out of wedlock when Gin was just a teenager herself. She's married to an abusive man, not unlike her father, while being in love with Samuel T., the father of her daughter who doesn't know that the girl is his. Then there's Max, the black sheep of the family who's been away from Easterly, the family estate, for years and has only recently returned. He had as much reason to hate their father as anyone and the timing of his return is now casting suspicion on him. Could Edward be covering for his younger brother like he often did when they were children?
None of the Baldwine siblings miss their abusive father, but they are broken up about the impending death of Miss Aurora, especially Lane. Miss Aurora has been the family's cook for years and essentially raised all of them, but now she's gravely ill with terminal cancer and in the hospital. As Lane and his siblings brace for the staggering loss, information comes to light that makes Lane believe Edward is indeed covering for someone else, which puts him on the trail of the real murderer. But the secrets Lane uncovers may rock the family to it's core, and he may have a hard time convincing the authorities of the truth.
Devil's Cut is the final book in J. R. Ward's Bourbon Kings series. Even though they're highly dysfunctional, I've loved reading about the Baldwine family and all of their trials and travails from the beginning. Where some readers saw nothing but a spoiled rich family, I saw four siblings who were emotionally wounded on a deep level and torn apart by their father's terrible abuse. I also saw a family in shreds from everything he'd done and their fortunes in question as his death revealed the true extent of his greed and misdeeds. As this story opens, we see that none of the Baldwine siblings - neither Edward, Lane, Max, nor Gin - really care one whit that their father, William, is dead. Quite to the contrary, they're glad that he's gone, and I can't blame them. But with his death, they've discovered just how bad of a businessman he was. He embezzled money from both private family trusts and the family owned Bradford Bourbon Company to invest in a string of fake or failed businesses, leaving the family legacy on the verge of bankruptcy, with creditors practically knocking down their doors to get repaid, when they don't have the liquidity to do so. This leaves them in a very precarious financial position. On top of that, the four siblings have basically scattered to the four winds, each nursing their own wounds from William's mistreatment. By the end of the previous book, it was also revealed that William's death was indeed murder, one which Edward confessed to. Devil's Cut didn't end up being quite the mystery I was expecting, though. Instead, it's about the family pulling together in the wake of their father's destruction. And perhaps more importantly it's also about them finding reconciliation in a number of different ways that left me with a warm, content feeling in the end.
As the youngest of the three brothers, Lane never thought he would ever find himself in charge of BBC if and when his father passed away. As the oldest, it was always expected that Edward would take up that mantle, but circumstances changed it all in a heartbeat. Lane is not the businessman that Edward is, so from the start, he's been having a hard time of it, not only because his skills aren't as good, but also because of the mess William left him to clean up. With the help of his best friend, Jeff, an investment banker, he's been slowly making sense of the company books and trying to keep the BBC solvent. On top of that, he's been doing his best to try to hold the family together, and that's a big job indeed. Luckily he has the love of his life, Lizzie, to help him out. They reunited in the first book of the series, and she's been his rock throughout all the problems that have come their way. Even though there have been a few bumps along the road, each book has taken them to the next step of their relationship, which I've very much enjoyed. Lane and Lizzie have been the core couple around which the rest of the characters and the plot revolve, and they're very well-suited to that role.
Edward is the oldest and he has always looked out for his younger siblings. Even when they were just children, he often took the severe punishments meted out by his father to save one of the others. That's why I never truly believed that he was guilty when he confessed to his father's murder at the end of the previous book. I couldn't have blamed him if he had been the perpetrator, though, because William treated Edward abominably, even trying to have him killed at one point. As a result, Edward spent weeks in a South American jungle being tortured, and he's never been the same since. Broken in both body and spirit, he retreated to his horse breeding farm, The Red & Black, avoiding everyone and drowning his sorrows at the bottom of a bottle. However, he's always been in love with Sutton, who is the daughter of BBC's chief competitor and now that her father is disabled, she has become the CEO of their company. Luckily for Edward, his feelings are reciprocated, but before turning himself in to the police, he broke off the relationship of a sort that they'd begun. I've always loved Edward for his selflessness, and I also love Sutton for loving him in spite of everything. If anyone in the series deserved an HEA, it was these two.
Gin is the youngest Baldwine, who started the series more worried about where she was going to get the money to continue living in the manner in which she was accustomed, than about anything that was going on with the family or the company. She also has a teenage daughter, Amelia, to whom she gave birth when she was just a teenager herself and whom she's largely ignored for most of the girl's life. Gin has basically had a habit of making one bad decision after another, perhaps the worst of which was marrying a man for money who ended up abusing her. It was also pretty crappy of her to not tell the man who fathered her child that he had a daughter. However, William's death and the subsequent problems that arose from that event have slowly been making an impact on Gin, causing her to turn her life around. The love of her life has always been Samuel T., who is also Amelia's father. Samuel T. is a brilliant attorney and a playboy who tries to self-medicate with tons of booze and women even though Gin is the one who he's never been able to get out of his system. Throughout the years, these two have shared a highly dysfunctional, tit-for-tat relationship, where they sometimes sleep together but always end up hurting each other. Underneath all the anger and bad feelings, though, it's obvious that there's no one else in the world who completes these two except each other. Out of anyone in the series, I think Gin and Samuel T. showed the most growth. In this book, they really impressed me by finally maturing into the responsible adults they always should have been.
Last but not least, middle brother, Max, was absent throughout the first book with no one really knowing where he was for the past few years. He returned to the family estate of Easterly but was still barely seen in the second book. Now in this final book, he gets a few of his own POV scenes, and what we find is a man who's hurting just as much as his siblings, but who has tried to run away from his problems instead of facing them. Right before he left Easterly, Max overheard his parents arguing and discovered a dirty little family secret, and that's why he left. He finally returned, feeling that now that his father is gone, he has a responsibility to tell the truth, but he doesn't plan on staying. The one person who might change his mind, however, is Tanesha, the woman who got away. Tanesha is the daughter of Miss Aurora's (the woman who essentially raised all the Baldwine siblings) minister and is a resident doctor at the local hospital. She and Max shared some sexy times before Max left town, and both of them are obviously still very attracted to one another. Although I didn't really get to truly meet Max until this book, I got just enough insights into his character to like what I saw and believe that he deserved an HEA too. Anyone who loves bad boys on Harleys should love Max. That coupled with his extraordinary singing ability and the fact that he dared to engage in an interracial relationship made him all the more appealing. I almost wish we could have gotten an even closer look at this couple, but I'm happy knowing that they're in a good place by the end of the story.
All of the secondary players who were seen in the previous books return. Jeff is still the acting CEO of the BBC and continues to do his best to help Lane out of a very sticky situation. Mack, Lane's friend and the company's master distiller, finally reveals that he's found a new strain of yeast that could be worth millions, but he might have to give it all up to save the company. Shelby, Edward's friend and employee, never loses faith in his innocence and is instrumental in bringing the truth to light. Greta, Lizzie's friend who used to help with the landscaping but is now working as the estate's new controller, helps sort out the books. Gary, the head grounds keeper at the estate has a big secret. Little V. E., the Baldwine siblings mother, actually seems to be doing a little better now that her abusive husband is gone. Although she's still suffering from dementia, she's seen wandering around the estate a few times, which leads to a surprising reveal. The villains, Gin's abusive husband, Richard, and Lane's soon-to-be ex-wife, Chantal, also get their comeuppances, which made me quite happy. Finally was Miss Aurora, the family's cook and the woman Lane calls his real momma. She's been suffering from terminal cancer throughout the series and in this one is on her death bed, not even conscious most of the time. She's always been a driving force in the Baldwine's lives, loving them and being their conscience. I think she can now look down from heaven and say that the sacrifices she made paved the way for the family's reconciliation.
While Devil's Cut perhaps wasn't quite what I was expecting it to be, I very much enjoyed it nonetheless. There are a couple of shocking revelations that very much took me by surprise. In fact, once William's killer is finally revealed for certain, I initially thought it wasn't real and that the person had other motives for confessing. On the one hand it seemed a little out of character, but on the other, it made perfect sense. I know I'm not being very clear here, but I can't say much more without giving away spoilers. In any case, it leads to a very satisfying ending. The main reason I read romance is for the HEAs. Nothing makes me happier than getting that wonderful happy ending for the main couple. Well, I got that and more here. After everything William put them through, no one deserved their HEAs more than this family, and nothing could have been sweeter than seeing each and every one of them, even a couple of supporting players, happy and on the road to a brighter future, not only in their personal lives but also as a family unit and in their business dealings. That made Devil's Cut a lovely and very welcome wrap-up to this family saga that left me with warm fuzzies all over.
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