Friday 13 December 2019

#CBR11 Book 87: "Angel in a Devil's Arms" by Julie Anne Long

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Official book description:
He has devil's blood in his veins. At least, that's always been the legend. How else could the Duke of Brexford's notorious bastard son return from the dead? The brutal decade since Lucien Durand, Lord Bolt, allegedly drowned in the Thames forged him into a man who always gets what—and who—he wants. And what he wants is vengeance for his stolen birthright...and one wild night in Angelique Breedlove's bed.

Angelique recognizes heartbreak when the enigmatic Lord Bolt walks into The Grand Palace on the Thames, and not even his devastating charm can tempt her to risk her own ever again. One scorching kiss drives home the danger.

But in the space between them springs a trust that feels anything but safe. And the passion—explosive, consuming—drives Lucien to his knees. Now his whole life depends on proving his love to a woman who doesn't believe in it...because his true birthright, he now knows, is guardian of Angelique Breedlove's heart.

This is the second book in Julie Anne Long's return to historical romances, her The Palace of Rogues series. While this book works perfectly fine on its own, it follows on pretty much directly from the first, Lady Derring Takes a Lover, which is also very worth reading. In a year when there really haven't been many romances that impressed me much, the fact that Long has written two is both remarkable and encouraging.

While Angelique Breedlove was quite the fallen woman before she entered into a partnership with the widow of her recently deceased lover, at the start of this book, she has a home, a business she's proud of, friends and a lovely found family. Delilah, the former Lady Derring, who should probably have hated her for being her husband's mistress, is instead her best friend and staunchest supporter. Captain Tristan Hardy, the naval hero who swept Delilah off her feet in the previous book, is a trusted friend. The ladies' boarding house, the Palace on the Thames seems to be doing well enough that the ladies are even thinking of expanding, hoping to buy the property next door.

So it's rather a surprise when the mysterious man who's been paying them to keep their nicest suite of rooms available shows up, with proof that he's in fact the scandalous Lord Bolt, who possesses a marquess' title, despite being the illegitimate eldest son of the Duke of Brexford. Everyone believed him to be dead, but instead he's been off making himself frightfully wealthy in the far East. Now he's back, bent on revenge on the people who had him set upon in the night, stabbed and pushed in the icy Thames. He believes the mastermind behind the plot against him is his own stepmother, the Duchess of Brexford (not a popular person in the Palace on the Thames after trying to steal their cook on more than one occasion) and he's determined to make it uncomfortable for the guilty parties by showing London that he's back, he's very much alive, and he's just as scandalous as ever.

Of course, while Angelique finds him extremely attractive, she has no wish to involve herself with a scandalous rake, no matter how handsome and wealthy he might be. She's had her share of drama, and now wants to live comfortably, happily unnoticed by the ton, securing the boarding house's reputation as a place of high standards and impeccable morality. She and Delilah explain their house rules to Lucien, believing he will choose to move elsewhere. They are surprised when he agrees to abide by the curfew, show up to the joint dinners and the communal evenings in the drawing room. He further impresses them by being pleasant to the other guest and quickly making friends with his charm and entertaining stories.

While revenge might have been Lucien's initial goal, he comes to realise that his provocative behaviour is keeping Angelique at arm's length. Against his wishes, he also meets his younger brother and finds that he likes the young man. His plans of causing a scandal and exposing the Duchess of Brexford to all of society would be very damaging to more than one person he has come to care about. To his credit, he uses his charm, intelligence and ruthlessness to redeem his former scandalous image instead, showing Angelique that he can be a worthy partner for her. When he gets a bit too alpha male and tries to defend her reputation in public, ending up confirming the gossip about her past, he works very hard to grovel and earn her forgiveness.

I said in my review of the first book as well, but I'm SO glad that Long is back to writing historical romances. Her contemporaries were perfectly fine, but her Regency romances truly shine. It seems that really good and memorable romances are fewer and far between these days, but I suspect I will enjoy re-reading this one.

Judging a book by its cover: I think the only thing I like about this whole cover is the font, and I'm not entirely sure about that one either. I hate the awkward posture of the dude in the background (who looks nothing like Lucien is described, apart from having dark hair). I hate that he looks like a cheap lookalike for Antoni from Queer Eye. While the female cover model's face is pretty enough, there's something about her posture and facial expression that makes me think they found her picture in some advert for a phone sex ad and photo shopped it onto the cover, then pasted the dress on paper-doll style. While I normally like yellow and it can be nice and cheerful, this whole ensemble just rubs me the wrong way. I think this cover actively detracts from the really excellent story inside the book and hope Ms. Long is luckier with her next one.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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