|Lorraine Heath plays it a bit safe with Between the Devil and Desire, a follow-up to In Bed with the Devil. This time the hero is Jack Dodger, former thief and pickpocket and now the owner of London’s most notorious gentleman’s club. Jack is renowned for his club’s ability to provide every pleasure a gentleman could request, as well as his own scandalous reputation, and he has the ladies of the ton all a-twitter. Olivia, Duchess of Lovingdon, normally wouldn’t spare a thought for such a man, but her husband has just died and for some reason he stipulated that Jack Dodger be present at the reading of his will.
Olivia muses briefly on Jack’s attractiveness, but her thoughts are cut short when she discovers the reason Jack is present: the late Duke has left most of his worldly possessions to Jack, along with the guardianship of five-year-old Henry, his heir. Olivia is outraged. This scoundrel in charge of her beloved son? One additional item is promised to Jack, something of “immeasurable wealth,” when Henry reaches his majority or Olivia remarries. Jack doesn’t understand why a man he barely met would leave him a fortune, but he doesn’t question it.
Olivia is further outraged when Jack points out that he is now the new owner of her London home, and he intends to move in. Olivia is welcome to stay if she will oversee the household, as Jack has no experience with such matters. Loath to leave her comfortable home, Olivia reluctantly agrees. Thrown into close proximity, Olivia and Jack will need to forge an uneasy truce. They will also need to deal with their undeniable attraction to one another.
These two characters were difficult to like for much of the book, which presented a big hurdle to overcome. Olivia is a snob, disdaining Jack even as she secretly wonders what it would be like to bed him. Jack grew up in the slums and now has one objective in life: to become more and more wealthy, and he gives little thought to the effect on Olivia’s life as long as it puts money in his pocket. He has little use for Olivia, but wishes he could take her to bed. They snarl and snap at each other, which was tiresome, and their “I want you but I can’t have you” dance was even worse. Add to this a host of all-too-familiar scenes, and the story took on familiar overtones. Midnight meeting in the library? Check. Olivia dressing up as a boy to go somewhere with Jack? Check. Possible threats on the child’s life? Check.
The author borrows unabashedly from Charles Dickens, naming the former leader of Jack’s gang of pickpocket boys “Feagan,” for instance. This will sit better with some readers than others, I think. But the biggest problem with this plot is that the author painted herself into a corner. There is no way Olivia and Jack can ever be anything but illicit lovers, given his underworld background and her high standing in English society. There is only one way to ensure the requisite happy ending, and readers will see it coming a mile off. It feels contrived and false.
Now, those quibbles aside, Lorraine Heath has a smooth, engaging writing style and never descends into the realm of purple prose. Her dialogue is crisp and realistic; even when I didn’t care for what the characters were saying, I could easily imagine them saying it. She’s long been a favorite author of mine. Having read the first two books in this series, I’ll definitely look for the rest, and given the Dickens framework, this was likely to have been the most difficult of the stories to plot.
Olivia and Jack eventually do end up as much more likable, and by the end of the story, I was rooting for them. Between the Devil and Desire isn’t my favorite by Lorraine Heath, but even so, it’s a quality read and is going to please a lot of her fans. If you enjoyed In Bed with the Devil, pick this one up and continue the story.