[TW for domestic abuse, rape. Some SPOILERS in this post.]
On the recommendation of Sarah Mayberry (whose phenomenal Her Best Worst Mistake I hope to write a review/recap/reaction about soon), I decided to read Blue-Eyed Devil. This was my first foray into Kleypas’ contemporary romance (I’ve read about 7 or 8 of her books set in the British regency period). I’m glad I did. So glad that I added Blue-Eyed Devil to my “My Favorite Romance Novels” list.
These lines from the book are my favorite and serve as a nice summary of the book:
I no longer believed in the idea of soul mates, or love at first sight. But I was beginning to believe that a very few times in your life, if you were lucky, you might meet someone who was exactly right for you. Not because he was perfect, or because you were, but because your combined flaws were arranged in a way that allowed two separate beings to hinge together.
Blue-Eyed Devil is the story of the charming, volatile and ambitious Hardy Cates, who is determined to carry out his private revenge against the Travis family. Haven is the rebellious Travis daughter who struggles against her overpowering attraction to the most dangerous man in town. But when Hardy crashes a Travis family wedding, the heiress and the bad boy uncover an explosive chemistry that neither of them can deny.
Hardy Cates is an unscrupulous rascal, but now he’s trying to clean up his act. He is looking for the perfect society wife, the kind of woman Haven Travis could never be. Having once been burned by a love affair gone wrong, Haven vows to stay far away from the sexy heartbreaker. However, Haven discovers that the temptation of a blue-eyed devil is hard to resist. And then when a menace from Haven’s past appears, Hardy may be the only one to save her…
Haven’s marriage ends because her husband turns out to be an abuser. Kleypas shows how someone slowly, carefully manipulates another. She illustrates how a narcissistic control freak constantly and consistently batters someone both emotionally and, eventually, physically until they don’t know which way is up or which way is out.
This book should have a giant TRIGGER WARNING on it. It is ROUGH. This is not at all in anyway a criticism of this book. Kleypas simply doesn’t back down from what it means to live with an abuser.
In the scene that leads to Haven finally leaving her husband, Nick, Haven’s husband, forces himself on her and Kleypas calls it what it is [TRIGGER WARNING]:
I hurt from my waist to my knees. I’d never had rough sex with Nick before.
It was rape, a small voice said inside, but I immediately told myself that if I had only relaxed a little more, been less dry, it wouldn’t have hurt nearly as much. But I didn’t want it, the voice persisted. I stood and flinched at the brutal throbbing soreness, and began to hobble to the bathroom.
“A little less drama, if you don’t mind,” I heard Nick say.
In a genre that can be VERY bad when it comes to consent and calling rape “rape”, I applaud Kleypas.
Later, Haven and her best friend, Todd, have the following conversation about what Nick did to her:
“The night I left Nick”—I looked away from Todd as I made myself say it—“we had rough sex.”
“Rough sex?” Todd asked. “Or rape?”
“I don’t know.” I was drowning in shame. “I mean, we were married. But I didn’t want to do it, and he forced me, so I guess—”
“It was rape,” he said flatly. “It doesn’t matter if you’re married or not. If you don’t want to do it and someone forces you, it’s rape. Holy shit, I’d like to kill the bastard.”
I really liked this book. A whole lot. Haven and Hardy each have their issues (BIG issues) and this story is about how two damaged people acknowledge their pain and still move forward in their lives. They don’t always make good decisions or smart ones, but Kleypas shows how much they care about each other from the beginning and how difficult it can be to address the past, even when you know it’s holding you back from happiness, how you will cling to it when you are scared of that happiness or feel undeserving of it.
I think what I will do is just quote some of my favorite stuff – Kleypas is a great writer.
Todd and his parents had even invited me to go to a Buddhist temple with them, but to my chagrin, my parents said no. I was a Baptist, Mother said, and Baptists didn’t spend their time thinking about reality.
After Haven is re-acquainted with Hardy in a bar after her divorce has gone through, they stand in the rain waiting for her cab. He wraps his coat around her and she ends up accidentally taking it home:
The normal thing would have been to have the jacket drycleaned immediately—there was a service in the building—and have someone take it to Hardy on Monday. But sometimes normal just isn’t happening. Sometimes crazy feels too good to resist. So I kept the jacket, uncleaned, all weekend. I kept stealing over to it and taking deep breaths of it. That damned jacket, the smell of Hardy Cates on it, was crack.
She ends up watching a movie while wearing it.
I realized that every encounter I had with Hardy Cates was beginning to feel like foreplay.
I’m not saying this book is perfect in every way. I got VERY tired of Haven’s narcissistic boss, Vanessa, and wanted someone (ANYONE) to call her on her bullshit. At one point Vanessa gives Nick lots of information and access to Haven that is so beyond the line that Haven’s minor verbal set down of Vanessa is just simply not enough.
Also, I was uncomfortable with the narrative that Haven or Hardy needed the other one in order to heal. I know what it means to be in a relationship with someone and to need them. I’m not denying that reality. And I love how the two fit together like two tragic but recovering puzzle pieces. It makes you believe in them, right from the get-go.
But a large part of me wanted Haven to find her internal emotional strength and for that strength to do as much or more for her as Hardy’s love and caring did. It’s not as if Haven is weak. Kleypas shows us many moments when Haven asserts her needs with her family and stands up for herself (though, again, the Vanessa storyline is beyond frustrating). But it did feel like Haven’s ultimate reclamation of herself and her life was dependent on her emotional and sexual relationship with Hardy.
Still, this is a damn good book. Also, YAY for all the therapy love throughout it.