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Devil in Disguise by Lisa Kleypas


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Devil in Disguise

by Lisa Kleypas
July 27, 2021 · Avon
Historical: EuropeanRomance

Devil in Disguise is a fun, hot romance that tells the story of Lady Merritt Sterling, the widowed daughter of the Earl of Westcliff, and Keir MacRae, a whisky distiller from Scotland. It’s very much fanservice for readers who enjoyed the Wallflower series, with Lillian, Westcliff and Evie all appearing in the story, and Sebastian, who is now the Duke of Kingston, playing a particularly prominent role. I am honestly not quite sure how well this story would work if one had not read the Wallflowers books, but I definitely enjoyed myself reading it.

Merritt is an extremely competent and charming heroine, who inherited her husband’s shipping firm and continues to run it with the help of her youngest brother, Luke. She takes a very hands-on role in the business, and the welfare of her workers is paramount to her. She first meets Keir when he storms into her office after an accident involving a shipment of his whisky, and the attraction between the two is instantaneous.

Keir is very much your fantasy Scottish romance hero (though this being the 19th century, he doesn’t wear a kilt, alas). He is big and strong and speaks in a brogue, and he scatters his English with Scots words. He insists on wearing a beard because he is so handsome without one that his friends tease him about it (!). He is very patriotic, and doesn’t really trust any innovations that don’t come from Scotland. Whisky is, of course, the cure for all injuries, and Scotch whisky is the water of life itself:

“Islay whisky starts as hot as the devil’s whisper… but then the flavors come through, and it might taste of cinnamon, or peat, or honeycomb fresh from the hive. It could taste of a long-ago walk on a winter’s eve… or a kiss you once stole from your sweetheart in the hayloft. Whisky is yesterday’s rain, distilled with barley into a vapor that rises like a will-o’-the-wisp, then set to bide its time in casks of good oak.” His voice had turned as soft as a curl of smoke. “Someday we’ll have a whisky, you and I. We’ll toast health to our friends and peace to our foes… and we’ll drink to the loves lost to time’s perishing as well as those yet to come.”

I absolutely loathe the taste of whisky, but that made me want to give it another try.

Their romance is, of course, Doomed, because an Earl’s daughter, even one who is In Trade (gasp!) cannot possibly marry a lowborn Scotsman who lives in a cottage on a tiny island. But Merritt is willing to risk one night with him regardless, after which it will all be over. Alas, this very practical plan goes awry when it becomes clear that someone is trying to kill Keir, and when a second attempt leaves him with amnesia the only possible choice is for Merritt to pretend to be his fiancée in order to oversee his nursing.

If you didn’t follow the logical leap there, you are not alone. This story was highly enjoyable but I did feel that I had to fling my suspension of disbelief out the window a few times while reading it.

Speaking of Scottish fantasies, incidentally, it did not escape my notice that for someone who has just been stabbed in the back and then stitched back together by the doctor, Keir has quite remarkable sexual stamina. (It was a very hot sex scene! But also, I was distracted because I was worried he would pop his stitches or start bleeding in a very unromantic way at a key moment…)

But for me, the most significant problem with this story was the shape of the romance itself. Merritt and Keir have instant chemistry and connection, but their initial assessment of having little in common is pretty accurate. They really can’t marry without Merritt losing her position in society, and she *likes* living in London, running a business, and being involved in society. Keir, on the other hand, loves his home in Scotland and his business distilling whisky, and they are both in agreement that this is not a lifestyle Merritt would enjoy.

And yet somehow these problems just melt away, and we go from ‘our love is doomed and we may never marry’ to ‘happily ever after’ in the blink of an eye. Part of this is via the unveiling of a Big Secret (which is not hard to guess, but I won’t spoil it for you). And the other part is… true love changing everyone’s priorities, I guess? I’m not sure what I wanted here – either a bit less deus ex machina to resolve the central problem, or a bit more of a picture of just how Merritt and Keir were going to live together, outside the bedroom – but I definitely wanted more than I got. So for me, that was a bit unsatisfying.

On a more positive note, I really loved the way the question of family was handled in this story.

Show Spoiler

Keir knows from the start that he is adopted. He was abandoned as a child, and his parents took him in as they were unable to have children. Keir views his adoptive parents as his true parents – they were the ones who loved him and raised him, and he is not going to be ashamed of them or of his upbringing. I really appreciated the careful grace with which Keir’s feelings about family were treated by Keir’s blood relatives. The man who fathered Keir is clearly deeply hungry to claim Keir as his son, but he also understands that Keir already has parents. He can’t just waltz into Keir’s life when Keir is a grown adult and expect to be instantly loved and looked up to.

I appreciated this all the more because Keir’s blood family really do have every advantage of class, wealth and power over Keir’s adoptive family. It would have been so easy to dismiss them and make this into an Ugly Duckling sort of story, and I liked that neither Keir nor his sire were willing to do that. Indeed, Keir’s greatest concern on discovering the identity of his blood family is the horrifying possibility that he might not actually be Scottish!

For me, this also felt like a nice callback to the ‘found family’ theme of the Wallflowers books. There is also a lot of kindness in this book generally. With the exception of the Villains Who Are Villainous, everyone in this story goes out of their way to treat the people around them well. This made it a very restful book to read.

Devil in Disguise is a low-stakes, sexy romance, with cameos from some of my favourite characters from the other Wallflowers and Ravenel stories. It did suffer from one significant flaw (don’t play the Our Love Is Doomed card if it will be thrown away halfway through the story), and as I mentioned above, I’m not at all certain it would work as a standalone for someone who didn’t already know the Wallflowers. But even so, it has definitely earned a place on my comfort reads shelf. It’s like fairy floss for the soul – sweet and light and delicious, but if you spend too much time thinking about it, it will all melt away and you will just be left with a few sad grains of pink sugar. Best to devour it in one happy gulp, and revel in the sweetness.

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