Series: Scoundrels of St James #3
Published by Avon on June 30, 2009
Genres: Historical Romance
Frannie Darling was once a child of London's roughest streets, surrounded by petty thieves, pickpockets, and worse. But though she survived this harsh upbringing to become a woman of incomparable beauty, Frannie wants nothing to do with the men who lust for her, the rogues who frequent the gaming hall where she works. She can take care of herself and feels perfectly safe on her own—safe, that is, until he strides into her world, and once again it becomes a very dangerous place indeed.
To bed her but not wed her. That's what Sterling Mabry, the eighth Duke of Greystone, wants. But Frannie abhors arrogant aristocrats interested only in their own pleasure. So why then does the thought of an illicit tryst with the devilish duke leave her trembling with desire? Her willing body begs for release . . . and a wicked, wonderful surrender.
Frannie Darling grew up on the rough streets on London, looked after by her “kidsman” Faegan and surrounded by her “family” of brothers – Luke, Jim, and Bill. From this family of thieves, she grows into a beautiful, independent woman managing the books at Dodger’s gaming hall and using her earnings to open an orphanage for boys. She has no interest in men or lust of any fashion until she encounters Sterling Mabry, Duke of Greystone, at Luke’s wedding to Sterling’s sister, Catherine. Sterling is also instantly attracted to Frannie and immediately begins his pursuit of her affections. Battling a degenerative disease, Sterling must find a suitable wife and begin producing heirs as quickly as possible, but since Frannie is not part of the aristocracy, she is ineligible to be his wife. But that does not stop Sterling from wanting her. As Frannie begins to introduce Sterling to the inner-workings of the childrens’ rookeries through her work at the orphanage, both must re-evaluate not only their preconceived notions of what it means to be an aristocrat but also what it means to fall in love.
Frannie Darling is kind and compassionate, but her upbringing on the streets has provided a healthy does of realism when it comes to interacting with the aristocracy. This character trait serves her well at her job as book keeper at Dodger’s gaming hall. Unfortunately, this realism does not appear to extend to her dealings with the rookeries she visits looking for boys to rescue with a place at her orphanage. In that respect, she is almost blind with the naive belief that she will be safe wandering the rough London streets alone. That aspect of Frannie’s personality was not terribly believable – this is a woman who grew up in a rookery, understands exactly how dangerous it is there for a female, and knows that the biggest, cruelest kidsman is out there and wants her dead. And yet night after night, Frannie traverses the seedy London underbelly all alone with naught but a small knife to protect her. Noble intention, but inconsistent with Frannie’s otherwise pragmatic personality.
Sterling Mabry is a man on a mission to experience all the wonders of the world and file those memories away for the time when he will be unable to function without another’s help. When he sees Frannie at his sister’s wedding, he is both intrigued and smitten. But it took a long time to warm up to his character – probably half the book. And even then, I wasn’t entirely convinced he deserved someone as kind-hearted as Frannie. Though smitten with her, Sterling has no intention of marrying Frannie. He wants to sleep with her, yes – propositions that she become his mistress – but always concedes that he must marry someone from the nobility. Throughout most of the book, this class-centered arrogance informs much of his action and thought. Thankfully, his character develops into someone who recognizes the advantages provided by his station, the injustices levied upon the poor, and how he might use his station to improve the lives of those far less fortunate than himself.
The love between Frannie and Sterling leaps off the page in a such a way that really pulls at the reader’s heart strings. The emotion between these two is beautiful and tender and frustrating all at the same time, which seems to be a special talent of Ms. Heath. (Brava!)
Unfortunately, I did remove half a star for the following trigger warning and spoiler: <spoiler>Frannie was sold to a brothel at 12 and raped before being rescued. I’ve said before and I will say it again: I hate the rape trope in romance novels, especially when the reader is not warned that it is incorporated into the story. There are passages that would certainly trigger someone who has survived such an ordeal and I certainly did not appreciate seeing those passages in this novel.</spoiler> I don’t like posting spoilers in my reviews, but since there are passages in this book that can trigger certain readers, I will always warn of that awful plot device.
That aside, Surrender to the Devil was an enjoyable read. Entertaining, a good group of charming secondary characters, and addresses the darker, seedier sides of Victorian life in London with sensitivity.