After I finished The Devil You Know, I felt it necessary to go back and read all the reviews of Liz Carlyle’s previous books to reacquaint myself with the stories of many of the secondary characters in her most recent book. This is not to suggest that The Devil You Know requires an immediate familiarity with these books. Indeed, the story stands alone. Still, most of the secondary characters had their own romances and I was interested in revisiting them, if only briefly. The hero of The Devil, Bentley Rutledge, was an important secondary character in several previous books.
And Bentley was almost always in trouble. The younger brother of the Earl of Treyhern, Bentley is the opposite of his serious, responsible brother. He drinks, he gambles, he womanizes; he is “bad ton.” But he is a charmer and one person he has charmed is Frederica d’Avillez, the nineteen year old ward of the Marquess of Rannoch. A kiss under the mistletoe the previous Christmas had stunned them both.
Freddie has been presented to the ton but while her beauty was admired, she received no offers. She thought to wed her neighbor, Johnny Ellows, but her long time suitor has just informed her that he must wed the woman chosen by his father. Freddie believes that her illegitimate birth means she will never have a husband, never know what it means to be a woman.
As she returns to the house, Freddie encounters Bentley in the garden. She throws herself into her old friend’s arms and cries her heart out. But suddenly, the embrace changes from comfort to passion. The spark ignited at Christmas turns into a blaze. Bentley tries to act the gentleman but Freddie will have none of it. She wants him and he wants her.
Bentley wakes up the next morning in Freddie’s bed. Before he leaves by the window, he writes Freddie a note offering to marry her. Then he goes home and awaits her reply, not realizing that the note blew away. When he doesn’t hear from her, he doesn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed.
Freddie believes that Bentley has fled without a word. She realizes that she now may never marry and is ready to resign herself to her fate. But the encounter in the garden left her with a permanent reminder; she is pregnant. When her family discovers her condition, they are willing to force Bentley to do the right thing but Freddie does not wish to wed an unsteady man with a reputation as a rake who does not want her. So the family devises a complex plan to save her reputation.
Bentley cannot forget Freddie and seeks her out. She repulses him. But then he figures out her condition and determines to marry her. When Freddie resists, Bentley offers her a deal: they will wed, live together for six months, and then if their relationship is not working, separate. It is clear that, perhaps to his own surprise, Bentley clearly wants to marry Freddie very, very much.
The Devil You Know is a “forced marriage” story, one of the most popular scenarios in the romance genre. Much of the tale centers on Freddie’s and Bentley’s adjustment to marriage. One area where the two are perfectly compatible is in bed. Bentley is experienced - to put it mildly. But he finds making love with his wife very different from his previous experience. However if the two share passion, they understand that it takes more than good sex and lots of it to make a marriage. But Bentley’s past sins seem to threaten their relationship.
Carlyle’s story departs from the typical “forced marriage” plot in that it is a psychological study of a truly tortured hero. Bentley’s tense relationship with his brother, his disastrous excesses, his underlying pain all stem from the past and he must confront his demons if he is to find happiness with Freddie. When the truth finally comes out, it makes sense of all of Bentley’s reckless and self-destructive behavior.
Freddie is almost as interesting a character as Bentley. She may be young, but her unusual life and circumstances have given her wisdom beyond her years. Her choices - first to refuse Bentley and then to accept the devil she knows - show her maturity and good sense. She also is the catalyst who forces Bentley to face the past. She is a good match for a most complex hero.
As noted above, Carlyle includes a large cast of secondary characters in the story. Most are familiar to those who have read the author’s previous books but it is enjoyable to see how their lives are working out some years later.
The Devil You Know is primarily a character study, an exploration of the power of the past to shape one’s life and the need to confront it in order to have a future. Because Bentley is so handsome, so charming and deep down so needy, the reader roots for his redemption. I cared about Bentley and Freddie and so I enjoyed their romance very much.