Devil May Care by Melanie George
(Zebra, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-7008-X
***
Devil May Care has one major hurdle that some readers will be able to get over and some won't. I wasn't able to. However, that hurdle aside (and we'll get to it in a minute), this book is well-written and has an entertaining story at its heart.

Young Eden Spencer has spent the last six years of her life in a convent and is about to take vows. Before she does so, she wants to find out a bit more about life. In other words, she wants to be bad. And who better to teach her than the most notorious rake in England, Damien Sinclair? Damien, Lord Blackstone, isn't nicknamed The Devil for no reason. And when Eden manages to meet him at a party, she offers him a sizable amount of money to be her tutor in badness. Damien is financially pinched, not to mention intrigued, and to his surprise, he agrees.

Soon Eden and Damien are sneaking out at night to visit gaming hells and brothels, with Eden dressed as a boy much of the time. And to his surprise, Damien finds himself reluctantly looking out for her, then falling for her.

There are lots of schemes against them. Damien's mother, an evil villainess if ever there was one, and Eden's uncle, another blackguard, both want to see Eden married to lascivious Lord Myddleton. Eden will inherit a sizable fortune when she turns eighteen. The only person who stands by Eden and tries to protect her is her cousin Reggie. And, as he becomes more and more fascinated with her nubile young body, The Devil himself.

All of this would have been an interesting setup were it not for one teensy detail that pretty much turned me off this book. It won't bother some readers, but it sure did me.

Damien is thirty-six and Eden is seventeen.

Okay, I just couldn't get around it. To be honest, it felt creepy. Yes, yes, I realize we all cut our teeth on The Flame and the Flower, but the idea of a man lusting after a girl who is more than young enough to be his daughter just doesn't sit right anymore. And try as I might to admire the author's style, her characterizations, her dialogue, the thought kept intruding: This guy is waayyy too old for her.

Which is a shame, because the story is cleverly plotted and entertaining. The secondary characters all serve a purpose (except for Damien's brothers, who make an appearance just to let us know their stories are coming), and the villains are just villainous enough without descending into caricature. Damien's metamorphosis from somewhat-bitter rakehell to caring lover is fun to watch, and he and Eden have plenty of heat between them. But due to the age difference, it's pretty much just sexual heat. There's little intellectual bonding here.

If the age difference doesn't bother you, Devil May Care may be just what you care to read. Melanie George is a talented writer with a knack for good storytelling. I'll be curious to see what she comes up with next.

--Cathy Sova


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