Times Two: Tempt the Devil and When the Duke Returns

Last week I started reading Eloisa James’ When the Duke Returns. I couldn’t get really into the story and struggled for days to engage in what seemed to me should be a very compelling character-driven account of a couple bound together in every way but emotionally, and comprised of two people who fight and claw against their mutual desire and perceptions of each other and their shared (or not) history. I was able to finish the book and found it enjoyable enough but nothing that I’d rush to recommend. I decided not to post about it because it just didn’t work for me for reasons I couldn’t adequately explain.

Yesterday I began reading Tempt the Devil by Anna Campbell. This story, too, is character-driven examination of a couple bound together solely emotionally and comprised of two people who fight and claw against their mutual….hmmm. Interesting.

Tempt the Devil engrossed me almost immediately. Olivia Raines is London’s most celebrated courtesan, renowned for her physical skills and striking beauty. Completing the package over which the ton’s men compete is her insistence on the same freedom and independence enjoyed by her patrons, titillating in its gender-busting. The Earl of Erith is her latest protector, a man who long ago gave up on personal intimacies after a devastating loss and who recognizes almost immediately a fellow lonely traveler (albeit one who claims to be totally otherwise). As a couple they alternately cling to and repel each other, running and chasing by turns as they ever-so-tentatively reach out of their respective shells. It’s a fascinating story of giving and receiving more than one thought possible.

Reading it made me curious to take another look at When the Duke Returns. Although When the Duke Return's Isadore and Simeon are, in paper (ha!), completely different from Olivia and Erith they actually share key commonalities. Married for years although separated just as long by Simeon’s gallivanting around Africa, they have no idea who or what the other party is underneath the claims of selflessness where the other is concerned. He returns to England to take up the reigns of his estate (finding chaos and debt) and decides that he can’t handle his spirited, smart, sensual not-so-young-anymore wife – he’d expected a docile needle pointer and she's Just Too Much. While he was gone she ran her own estates quite successfully and bristles at the notion that she should set it aside merely because he's decided to return to his own legacies. So maybe he’ll annul the marriage?

She wants nothing more than to be a proper Duchess and decides in advance to accept her husband however he might present himself – she’d anticipated someone more conventional than the non-wig wearing, short-pants-donning, tanned, virgin. Her husband’s plan to annul their union strikes her like a physical blow and she vows that an annulment will not happen. How can their individual searches for respectability result in the need to create scandal to be free? The result is a dance of intellectual will, sex, shame, regret and both romantic and familial love (mixed in with secondary stories I, frankly, did not understand at all and skipped).

Here’s the thing. I didn’t really get When the Duke Returns until I had read Tempt the Devil. Although I had enjoyed the former well enough it didn’t really speak to me. Reading Olivia and Erith’s story put me in a place where I could relish the pas-de-deux of a complex, maybe-I-want-you-maybe-I-don’t relationship, where the charge to the Happily Ever After involves chess-like moves right up to the last page. If I wouldn’t necessarily rush to push either book into a friend’s hands, I would certainly encourage the bundle of both together. Somehow these two couples - one outside the bounds of propriety, the other wrenchingly seeking it – and their journeys work better as a pair than individually.


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