The Devil in Disguise
by Stefanie Sloane
(Ballantine, $7.99, PG) ISBN 978-0345-51739-5
****
If you are looking for a new author that knows how to write intriguing characters, a pretty good mystery and a very nice love story, then look no further. If this is what one can expect from Stefanie Sloane in the future, I know that I have added a must read author to my list. The Devil in Disguise has two strong, intelligent lead characters, a cast of secondary players that have a lot of depth and whet one’s appetite for their own stories and a writing style that engages the reader’s emotions of love, romance and humor.

William Randall, the Duke of Clairemont was raised by an abusive father who ruled his household with an iron hand. The prior Duke was a man with a public persona of charm and elegance and a private one that was cruel to his wife, a woman who had once been frivolous and gay; a hard disciplinarian to his two sons, especially his heir, Will. In fact, Will learned early on to take the abuse to protect his brother. This put a strain on their relationship, since one of the keys was making his father think he did not care about his brother. And Will grew apart from his mother, whose lack of willingness to protect him he viewed as apathy rather than the self-preservation it was. Because of this, Will vowed to never let emotions, especially love rule him. He was ripe for recruitment in the Young Corinthinians, a group of nobles who double as spies.

His current assignment is a tad distasteful. He must show himself in society and act as if he is courting a rich young lady in order to protect her from a kidnap plot from France. Their goal is to get her wealth and show England how vulnerable it is at the same time. The young lady in question is Lady Lucinda Grey, a woman who has avoided matrimony for many years. At twenty-six, she is almost on the shelf, but her beauty keeps her in the throes of the ton. In actuality, Lucinda has been raised by her three aunts to be an independent woman and look at her wealth from unentailed estates as a way to maintain that independence. Collectively, they have a goal of growing their horse breeding business and landing themselves a great horseracing champion. It is through this that Will is able to gain entry to Lucinda’s life. He owns King Solomon’s Mine, a beauty of a horse that Lucinda had hoped to buy from her neighbor until that neighbor stupidly lost the horse in a betting wager.

So Will approaches Lucinda at a ball and challenges her to a wager – she allow him to court her for three months. If at the end of that time, she doesn’t fall under his spell, then she gets the horse. If however, they fall for each other, then they will marry and share the horse. Lucinda feels she cannot lose, although she assumes she will win the horse. Will has a wicked reputation and while she understands his stated need for a wife to gain an heir, she is sure she can resist him.

What neither accepts is the power of their attraction and the fact that they are truly well matched. Will knows that he lusts after her, ever since he took his first look. Lucinda is unlike any woman he has known. With the depth of the danger she is in and his need for keeping that part of his mission secret, his task has become doubly difficult. Lucinda meanwhile, in intrigued by Will, coveting his caresses and kisses more than that of any other man.

As expected, they fall in love and their deceptions threaten to tear them apart. There is nothing new in the plot line – the other spies are intriguing in their own right as is often the case in stories of this type. Yet the author uses wit and humor to add her own voice, thus making this an engaging story and one that is hard to put down. I was eager to find her next book in the series as soon as I put this one down.

Stefanie Sloane is a name to watch and this reviewer can only hope that she can live up to her debut. The Devil in Disguise is going to be a hard act to follow.

--Shirley Lyons


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