Dear readers: I loved this book. The witty, sexy and sometimes pulse-pounding Dalliances and Devotion joined the ranks of my all-time favorite romance novels with such breathless ease I sat in happy amazement for a moment when I finished the last page of this story of a heiress and beauty columnist who embarks on a second chance romance with the Pinkerton who was her teenage sweetheart,
Amalia Truitt, whose beauty byline in Philadelphia teaches young society girls about the benefit of makeup and independent thought, is on a train headed from Indiana to Delaware to ask for her stake in the family fortune. Living under the shadow of a second divorce that’s disappointed her family, Amalia hopes to prove to them that she’s not the same immature girl they remember. No, Amalia has become a self-made, assured professional and she hopes to prove it by applying her inheritance to founding a charity that will provide resources for women seeking divorce. Then she sees the handsome David Zisskind enter her compartment, and her memories of him – fond and not – come flashing back.
David was Amalia’s brother’s military compatriot in the V Corps, and once upon a time when she and David were teenagers they were deeply in love and indulged in a brief affair. But his lower social status kept them apart, and as David transformed himself into a dedicated soldier and then a Pinkerton detective, Amalia forgot about him and moved on with other men. Now he’s been hired by her brother Jay to guard Amalia against the death threats churned up by her second divorce.
There’s a long train ride ahead of them – a journey, it turns out, fraught with attacks from Amalia’s stalker. Can David and Amalia keep their hands to themselves? And do they even want to?
Wanna have a fun ride with a smooth-talking lady and a very not-smooth-at-all hero? Dalliance and Devotion has you covered. Some readers may have a problem with Amalia’s initial snobbishness when it comes to David’s former poverty and their shared history, and may find her rather immature and over the top. She’s spoiled, she’s fickle, and she’s a flirt – and she relentlessly manipulates old squeezes for money. But that just made me like her more – she’s imperfect but is a good person, realistic in her foibles.
Poor David, meanwhile, is still trying to be a good Pinkerton while dealing with war flashbacks – relating specifically to the death of his brother, which he witnessed – that occur whenever he sees blood and gore. He’s also trying to be a good guy and not to give in to Amalia’s flirtation but… well, she’s Amalia and she’s shameless. He’s a good, strong person with his own vulnerabilities, and a damned good Pinkerton. I rooted for his victory over his PTSD.
And the romance between these two? It’s outstanding. The sexual chemistry between David and Amalia is absolutely off the charts; it crackles with tension and sensuality that’s a lot of fun. The banter is utterly top notch; Grossman knows how to work snark and repartée, and I absolutely believed that David and Amalia adored and wanted one another but needed to get over themselves before reaching their happily ever after. Seriously, this is one witty book. Example: within inches of completing their first on-page sexual encounter, they’re interrupted by a knock at the door. Grossman, as David and Amalia shriek their simultaneous dismay: “At least they got to do something in unison.” Reader, I died laughing. And I absolutely loved that David was the less experienced one in the relationship, and that he respected Amalia’s work as a columnist. I won’t spoil it, but his proposal!
The secondary characters are great. I really loved Meg, a female Pinkerton posing as Amalia’s maid, and another colleague named Will. They’re in this together as they try to protect Amalia, which is not, naturally, an easy task.
Grossman does a beautiful job with the research here, bringing to life the world of her characters.
There’s less antisemitism discussed on-page here than there is in Appetites and Vices, though David and Amalia discuss the difference between the America others experience, and the one that exists for Jewish people. There is a heavy and solid exploration of sexism instead as Amalia struggles to make her way in the world as an independent woman.
Dalliances and Devotion is, bar none, one of the best historical romances of the year. Do yourself a favor and enjoy an afternoon in its witty embrace.
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