|With a heavy tip of the hand to Charles Dickens, Lorraine Heath offers up the story of a misfit nobleman and a desperate lady in In Bed with the Devil. Lucian Langdon, the Earl of Claybourne, is the Devil of the title. Lucian grew up on the London streets and has no memory of his parents' death. Tutored in the art of thievery by Feagan, befriended by fellow child thief Jack Dodger, Lucien was awaiting trial for murder when he was unexpectedly taken in at the age of fourteen by a man claiming to be his grandfather. It seems that the man Lucian stabbed might have been his own uncle. Subsequently raised as a gentleman, he has ascended to the peerage - though London wants little to do with him.
Lady Catherine Mabry, however, is not so picky. She wants Lucien - so he can commit another murder for her. Desperate to save her friend Winnie, who is being physically abused by her husband, a powerful Duke, Catherine approaches Lucien and asks for his help in getting rid of the Duke. Lucien reluctantly agrees, but wants something in return. It's not the typical "night in my bed," though. Lucien wants Catherine to help his longtime friend Frannie feel comfortable in Society, so she'll finally agree to marry him.
Catherine agrees, and the stage is set for two strong-willed people to fall in love. No matter that Lucien wants to marry another woman; he is drawn to Catherine and she to him. This unlikely setup requires quite a suspension of belief, but the story is entertaining. The fact that it succeeds even though the main characters are dragging around mountains of baggage is a credit to the author, and the second half of the book really picks up steam.
Lucian is pretty thickheaded when it comes to his own emotions, and stubbornly clings to his vision of a marriage to Frannie even while he’s falling hard for Catherine. He suffers from headaches and strange flashbacks, and always, the feeling that he’s living a lie. Catherine, who is acting as the head of her family, has a number of problems on her shoulders. Her father suffers from the effects of what is probably a stroke, and is infirm and unable to speak. Her older brother is wandering around the world somewhere. Her mother is dead. Her best friend is being beaten regularly. And now she's falling in love with a man who wants to marry another woman.
While the first half is devoted to introducing all of this, the second half really shines. One of the most convincing types of love story is the one where two characters spend time together and get to know one another before falling into bed, and both Catherine and Lucian have much to offer each other. She needs his acceptance and appreciation of her intelligence and strength of will; he needs her belief that he's a good man in spite of his upbringing on the streets. It works.
Readers who are willing to overlook the unlikely premise will enjoy In Bed with the Devil.