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The Devil's Love

Wicked Angel by Julia London
(Dell, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-440-22632-5
After reading the short descriptive blurb on the back of Wicked Angel, I truly did not think I'd like this book. I was certain that this was going to be yet another historical where the main conflict is that the hero is engaged and even though he loves the heroine, he would rather hurt her than call off his engagement. Well, I was wrong.

Widowed without ever being a bride, Lauren Hill, Countess Bergen, gave up the fortune she inherited from her deceased Bavarian husband and returned to England. Living with her brother at Rosewood and helping to raise the orphans they've taken into their home makes Lauren happy.

Lauren's guardian wants to marry her off again, but Lauren refuses to marry except for love. After Alex Christian enters her life, she begins to dream about the possibility of loving and living happily ever after. Although Alex seems to return her regard and his camaraderie with the children is all that Lauren could wish for, he leaves her with kisses and vague talk about having to get back to his responsibilities.

Assuming he is married, Lauren tries to put thoughts of Alex behind her. Rosewood's finances continue to dwindle and her guardian blackmails her into going to London for the Season to snare a rich husband. Upon arriving in London, Lauren is more than a little surprised to find out that her Mr. Christian is actually the Duke of Sutherland, one of the most powerful political figures in England.

Alex, too, is shocked to find out that his "angel" is actually a countess. He knows that he should stay away from Lauren, his imminent marriage to the sweet and adoring Lady Marlaine Reese will solidify the reform politics he has worked so long to push through Parliament. Lady Marlaine's father is a very powerful political conservative and with his support, Alex knows he can make a difference and help many.

But his feelings for Lauren are too powerful to totally deny; Alex finds himself attending social events he would never have considered just to catch a glimpse of Lauren. Gossip is rife about the two and threatens to destroy all the good that Alex has worked so hard to achieve.

Wicked Angel is far from perfect. The ending is too drawn out and there are too many "damns" and "for Chrissakes" in this well-bred English woman's thoughts. However, I am recommending this book because it is emotionally involving and because it is not the same old story about an engaged man falling in love right before his wedding.

Too many times I have read romances where the hero was engaged and always thought it was better to honor his commitment to a woman he doesn't care for rather than honor the woman he loves. I never understood the logic and I never liked the books. Wicked Angel is not that silly or that simple.

In fact, this is a complex and emotionally powerful love story; in many ways it is gut wrenching. The attraction between Lauren and Alex is undeniable; they are desperately in love, with the emphasis on desperately. Yet it's impossible not to feel for Lady Marlaine, who adores and has cared for Alex for years.

Usually I have no patience with a hero who doesn't put the woman he loves first, but this story is rich and complex. Alex is a very powerful man with powerful responsibilities and he is genuinely fond of his loving fiancée.

Most romances tend to be black and white; Wicked Angel has lots of gray. While I didn't always like or agree with actions of the hero and heroine in Wicked Angel, I always understood why they did what they did. And I never lost interest in their story.

--Judith Flavell

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