Devil in Disguise
Grade : A-

We were all hoping for a high grade for Devil in Disguise weren’t we?  Well, good news friends!  This longtime Kleypas fan was well pleased by the story and the romance, and I couldn’t read it fast enough.  There are some problems – instalust really isn’t my jam; I think our hero might be skirting a fine line between character and caricature (lots of slang that I’m not sure is always necessary to show that he’s Scottish); and our heroine doesn’t do a ton of work despite her characterization as a savvy businesswoman.  But despite these complaints, Kleypas kept me entertained from the first page to the last.  I fell in love with this pair and I’m happy to recommend Devil in Disguise to you.

In this book, the devil is in the details.   If you’re a Kleypas fan and you pay attention to pesky things like book titles and book blurbs, you probably already guessed the big surprise in this story.  But if you haven’t, or you still can’t guess what it might be, read on – I won’t be giving it away in this review.

After her husband perished at sea, Lady Merritt Sterling (daughter of Marcus, Earl of Westcliff and Lillian (It Happened One Autumn)) stepped in to run his successful shipping company.  With help from her younger brother Luke (who agreed to take over management of the company once he learned the ropes), the pair managed to grow the business and prove skeptics wrong about Merritt’s business acumen.  Beloved by her employees, tough but fair, Merritt enjoys her work.  But on this day, things get off to a rough start.  When Luke knocks on her office door and reports he’s got an angry client on the dock and he needs her help to calm him down, Merritt is both alarmed and amused by his response when she asks what happened.  Apparently, MacRae Distillery’s cargo (twenty-five thousand gallons of extremely valuable single-malt whisky) was delivered to the wrong location, and then a cask of whisky slipped from the hoisting gear, broke on the roof of a transit shed, and poured all over MacRae.   After informing a laughing Merritt that she’s good with big and mean, Luke tells her MacRae is ready to murder someone—which is why I brought him up here to you.  Unfortunately, she isn’t prepared for the wrathful Scotsman who bypasses Luke and plants himself on the other side of her desk.  He’s soaked and scowling, big and sexy and strong and astoundingly good looking, and very angry.

Keir MacRae is pissed.  He’s hungry, covered in whisky, worried about his shipment, and unprepared for the beautiful widow who coolly greets him and assures him Sterling Enterprises can fix the problem with his shipment.  After accepting his condolences on the loss of her husband, Lady Sterling calmly responds to each of his questions, sends Luke out to ensure the work is done, and then offers to escort him to the company flat so that he might change.  Much to his chagrin, she ignores his concerns about accompanying him unchaperoned and insists on escorting him to the flat.  Lady Sterling, he soon discovers, is used to getting her way.  She somehow manages to cajole him into several cups of coffee, a bite to eat nearby, and a change of clothes before delivering him to the docks.  Keir tries to ignore how she smells, how she looks, how capable and knowledgeable she is, and what he’d like to do to her if they were alone in bed (ahem!), all the while desperately reminding himself that he’ll forget all about her once he gets back to work, but friends, the struggle is real.  Oh, you poor Scottish fool.  It’s already too late.

You see what I mean about instalust?  Yep, don’t you doubt it, Merritt is feeling it, too.  I know what you’re thinking.  Really?  A couple of hours in each other’s company – a handsome and twice soaked Scot gruffly muttering slightly hilarious Scottish slang and trying not to be managed, and a beautiful – good smelling! – widow deftly ignoring said Scotsman – cannot possibly lead to true love.  You’re wrong!  It does!  And all this lovely foreplay is merely a delicious prelude to the dinner date wee bully Merritt insists they have two nights hence.  Fist pump for Merritt.  Get it, girl! (wink, wink:  she does!)

But wait!  There’s more.  Before the dinner date, Keir has to sell his whisky, and after several successful meetings with local buyers, he heads to a meeting with Horace Hoagland, the managing steward of Jenner’s (Devil in Winter), to sell a special batch of single malt he discovered after his father’s death.  Hoagland has tasted MacRae whisky once before, and is familiar with its quality, and impresses Keir with his appreciation of the samples he provides.  The two have just struck a deal when Hoagland spots the Duke of Kingston (who owns Jenner’s).  After a brief conversation, Hoagland offers a dram to His Grace and starts to introduce Keir to the duke.  Kingston is in the midst of refusing when he spots Keir.  And then things get awkward.  Keir isn’t sure why the duke is acting so strangely – asking after his family and his upbringing, and the steward seems equally confused.  He’s relieved when Hoagland returns their conversation to the whisky sale and the duke departs.

Keir and Merritt each spend the interim before The Dinner Date trying to stay focused on their actual lives – he selling whisky; she running a shipping concern – but all they really do is think about each other.  A lot.  And we wait expectantly for the sexy times to commence and wonder how this love affair will sustain a full length novel.  But then Keir is assaulted on his way to Merritt’s for dinner and nearly killed.  Um, what?  Yep, Kleypas sets in motion a parallel suspense plot that unfolds just as Merritt and Keir begin to fall in love.  It’s not the strongest part of the story, but it works!

Oh, reader.  I loved the chemistry between this pair and Kleypas does a wonderful job juxtaposing Keir’s gruff, slightly rustic persona with the lovely, dazzling (not averse to a potentially scandalous love affair), Merritt Sterling.  Devil in Disguise features two mature adults who adore each other from the moment they first meet, and aren’t too shy to admit it.  She deftly shows how overwhelming and intense and wonderful and surprising and confusing these feelings are for both principals, but readers are never left in doubt these two are meant for each other.  Keir and Merritt spend a passionate, extremely sexy night together before Kleypas pulls the rug out from under them, and this reader WAS HERE FOR IT.  The heat level in DiD is a bit higher than other Kleypas novels, and reader, it’s a treat.  Keir is a capable, enthusiastic lover and he’s so, so good to Merritt.  I loved everything about this pair and their steamy love story.

What I didn’t love?  The altogether too chummy and smug and oh so perfect Wallflower character cameos.  One of these devilish characters is a bit too ever present in the Ravenel series, and his late life perfection grows tedious.  We get it, he’s reformed; he’s the greatest father/husband/duke/businessman/friend/everything.  Enough.  No one – not the wallflowers and not their husbands – is perfect, and neither are their marriages.  Characters are allowed to have flaws and readers will still love them.  So, no need to gild the lily every time, Ms. Kleypas.  We’ll still like them.  Probably.  Oh, but don’t change Ransom or Garrett.  They’re great just the way they are.

Devil in Disguise is a terrific addition to the Ravenel series, and I’m happy to recommend it to Kleypas fans old and new.  It even inspired me to start listening to the series, too!  Look, this trout was happy to be guddled by this author… and I’ll be eagerly anticipating whatever she comes up with  next.

Buy it at: Amazon, Audible, or your local independent retailer

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Reviewed by Em Wittmann

Grade: A-

Book Type: Historical Romance

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : July 26, 2021

Publication Date: 07/2021

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Em Wittmann

I love romance novels - all kinds. I love music - some kinds. I have strong opinions about both and I like to share them.
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