My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
The second installment from Ashlyn Macnamara, A Most Devilish Rogue started out rather slow for me. I was not sure what to think of George or Isabelle or their situation for a long time. It was nice and all but the real depth of the story came a little late. That part of the story was pretty phenomenal; took me not only by surprise but took my breath away as well. Let’s move on to my review, where I’ll try to explain why I felt that way.
George was featured in the first book, A Most Scandalous Proposal. He was introduced as the H, Benedict’s close buddy. George was shown as a jovial, charming man whose love of gambling probably only surpasses his love of loose women. He seemed perfectly happy with how he’s living, attending the gambling tables when the need for money arises and going to his mistress when the need is more intimate. I was rather not interested in him for a while. Then, after sometimes, I realized that George is actually not as happy-go-lucky as he lets on. He has his own troubles that he hides from the world. George’s family, although noble, has fallen on hard times. He has 2 younger sisters to think of, apart from his widowed mother. George is a mere mister but that doesn’t deter his mother from matchmaking. He knows he probably will have to marry soon, and probably an heiress but he’s not going down that path as long as he can avoid it. He also has a very expensive mistress, keeping her is gradually also proving to be catering to an elephant!
We also learn that George is in need of a big chunk of money and it’s not even his own gambling debt. There was a fellow named Summersby, who committed suicide because of mounting gambling debts and blackmail, leaving his wife and young children. George was so shaken by this incident that he’s determined to help the family. Not only George want to help out through financial means but also, he’s determined to take revenge on the people who ruined Summersby, starting from this very rich and blue-blooded family, the Earl of Redditch.
But at the beginning of the story, George finds himself in another debacle. This time, after spending an afternoon shagging his mistress, he learns that she’s pregnant. Talk about bad luck, or mess, or... I don’t even know what to call that! Afterwards, some burly guy bursts through the door and tries to beat George up, accusing him of ‘ruining his sister’ and then, asking for compensation, of course, in the form of money. Even though George somehow manages to get away, he knows soon he has to find a way to get out of this recent, and by far the biggest, mess yet. He’s not ready to be a papa, let alone having a kid with his mistress, who is (as we see later) is as crass as they come and doesn’t give a sh!t about ruining her chances of getting another protector when George is not with her anymore. Just then, even George himself is not sure what he’s going to do.
Story moves on to introduce us to the h, Isabelle. Now, her lifestory is full of sadness and misery. She was the daughter of an Earl but on the season of her coming out, she was duped by some rake with the promise of marriage and had fallen pregnant. The SOB left her, never to be seen again. Isabelle’s stern (and loser) family turned her out without any help whatsoever. Poor girl had help in a maid servant of her house, who was also leaving her job. The maid, Biggles, brought her to this little village far away from London. She took care of her after she had her baby, for which Isabelle is grateful. Living in this small and strict village with an illegitimate child hasn’t been easy. She’s still more of an outcast as most do not want anything to do with her. But over the last 6 years, Isabelle has made a place and has been working hard to earn something to feed her son. An Earl’s daughter who has never worked before, Isabelle has learned her lessons, mainly never to trust a man ever in her life. But that was about to change, and soon. Isabelle obviously didn’t like laboring and (I felt) held, even if a little, contempt for Jack. For some reason, at first, I found her kinda cold and distant towards the boy, which I didn’t like. I mean, whatever she thought about him and her own circumstances, Jack was not to blame for any of this.
This is the same village where Revelstoke, or Benedict’s country house is and George is currently visiting here on the occasion of a house party. His mother wants him married and this is the chance to view what this season has to offer! But George’s mind is not into marriage but his own troubles. At that point, I thought he has already mentally discarded his mistress, though he still will have to pay for the child when it’s born. There is also the matter of Summersby. George talks to Benedict about it, though he doesn’t see any immediate and viable solution but to work his gambling skills here. Not a lot of prospect for that but George is a little desperate for money. He needed a moment of respite, which led him to the seashore nearby... where he sees Isabelle and Jack for the first time. This struck a chord, a sensitive chord if I may say so because George was enjoying seeing the exuberant boy and the girl, whom he though the boy’s sister, walking. Even though this also brought in mind his impending fatherhood. At one point, Jack somehow is swept by the waves and without even thinking about it, George dives in and saves him. The beautiful girl seems not happy about him interfering though. She says ‘thank you’, all the while glaring at him. Then George finds out that the girl is actually Jack’s mother.
George is intrigued, something Isabelle guesses but doesn’t like. After all, she’s had that kind of look on other man’s faces when they understood her situation. An offer of something she can’t consider at all more often than not follows. Isabelle leaves the place hurriedly, though it seems like her son has already started hero-worshipping ‘George’, as the man has introduced himself. A few days later, Isabelle finds a letter waiting for her asking her to meet at Revelstoke’s estate at midnight. Isabelle immediately thinks this might be from George. She has already met him once or twice after that and the man seems more and more interested in talking to her... Even though Isabelle wants to repel him, it’s not proving easy. For one, he’s very handsome and charming, not at all helpful for her cause! Then Isabelle thinks this might be from her father, who demands obedience at once. Either way, she decides to meet whoever it is and sets out.
George, on the other hand, has targeted this miss from the bunch of girls who have been staying at the estate. The girl is a relative of the Marshall family and he hopes to charm the chit into spilling some secret information about the family because Marshall keeps all his secrets tight-locked. Even though this girl is quite cold and distant, as if she’s holding contempt for everyone around her, George is sure he can charm his way in. He even left a note for her to meet him at midnight, but obviously, this night, she’s not coming. After that, George walks into a room where he finds the piano. His instinct gives way and his love of music wins. So far, in his life, George has hidden this talent from everyone, most especially because his father insinuated that this is not a manly hobby. According to his father, manly hobbies should be drinking, gambling and whoring! Being the only son, George had to give in and listen to his father’s dictates to make him happy but on the inside, his heart always cried out to perform or at least to play the piano to his heart’s content. He has a brilliant memory when it comes to remembering his notes. This night, George gives into his passion, giving his fingers a free reign.
Isabelle, who was nearby waiting for the man, follows the notes of the piano and finds George. She’s entranced. George notices her too, and even though he stops playing, his secret is out it seems! Then again, George is not really unhappy about it, but certainly surprised to find her here, alone at this time of the hour. He demands answers, his gut twisting with jealousy (something that he definitely should not feel) that she must’ve come here for a tryst. But Isabelle tells him nothing of the sort. What I didn’t like how their talks turn into something and George’s thoughts immediately worked into making her his mistress. I was a bit scared that Isabelle would give into this, even though she should’ve learned from her past by now.
George finally offers to walk her home, but Isabelle is against it. George begins following her any way to make sure she’s safe. It pays because half-way through the road, some big, lumpy guy attacks her. Though the guy runs away after being hit by George, it still baffles him and Isabelle both. When they’re at her home, Isabelle finds something alarming. Jack is not on his cot! Biggles was sound asleep so she had no idea what happened. After a thorough check of the house, it’s confirmed that Jack has been kidnapped! A note was left but there was no other clue. Isabelle’s world, for the second time in her life, tumbles down. She can’t imagine where her boy is or who could’ve taken him. George assures her that he’s going to look and will accumulate help for this. Isabelle wanted to protest but time is running out and she needs all the help she can… and there is no one here but George.
After a day of search, without any clue to this kidnap, Isabelle comes home to find that this time Biggles has also disappeared. George is suspicious of this, what if the woman was involved in it? I was too but Isabelle shrugs off. According to her, Biggles would never do such a thing, ever! After all she’s the one who took care of her and little Jack. George is not so sure though. Then he insists that Isabelle should stay at Benedict’s place for the time being for her own safety.
At Benedict’s house, things don’t go well. Julia, Benedict’s wife and her sister, the Countess, Sophia, welcome Isabelle warmly and are very sympathetic. But Isabelle encounters a nasty surprise. Her own cousin, that Marshall girl recognizes her instantly and begins a humiliating tirade of how Isabelle has ruined the reputation of their family and dragged their name in the mud etc etc. in front of everyone present. Just when she thought she might be feeling a little safer, Isabelle’s illusion is shattered again. After that, even her coarse, fake accent so that no one knows just how much of a high-bred lady she has been once, can’t work. George was not there to help so Isabelle leaves... Julia is not happy about this and sends an assortment of things (including chocolate for Jack) to Isabelle’s house as an apology of sort.
George was busy looking for some clues. Hunts in the village inn and its stable has given him some clue and it’s not something he wants to talk about; a handkerchief distinctly smelling of his ex-mistress’s perfume. George is determined never to talk about this as he knows the kind of disdain Isabelle would harbor for him if she knows just how deep of a mess he’s in. There is also another piece of interesting news. A guest from Benedict’s manor has gone missing at the same time as Biggles. George didn’t like that fop, more so when it seemed that he has made an impression on his spinster younger sister, Henrietta.
When he returns, George finds that Isabelle has left. He follows her home. There, things take a little intimate turn between them in the most unexpected of times. Isabelle was lost and I got that George just wanted to be of help… any help. And he knew only one way for sure. No, it was not sex but close enough. Their joint search for any clue about Jack in various places had already begun gossips and whispers among the villagers. Isabelle begins to think she might not be able to live here once Jack is found, especially now that the vicar’s wife has seen George with her. Oh, to have such an existence! I felt so sad for her. Not a moment of peace, always being judged for every step you take.
Soon, there is another note and the mention of money. George wants to help and he has the money too, the money accumulated to pay Summersby’s debts. But right now, it’s important to help Isabelle. After a night of hasty love making, George’s feelings are all over the place. He has never felt this way before, for anyone. Never felt this closeness, this companionship, as open and free as he feels with Isabelle. He doesn’t want to think what this might mean but somewhere deep inside, George already knows that he has fallen hard for this strong woman. Doesn’t matter that it must be way too soon to feel anything but it’s there and George can’t help it. And he cares for Jack. He wants to bring the boy home to make Isabelle happy. More of his hunt brings him closer to more clues, and suddenly, it’s not looking very well. The information he gains (and later goes to confirm it) tells him that his ex-mistress and her real brother are connected to it. George feels the cramp in his gut and the guilt because he knows he ultimately have to come clean to Isabelle. You can just feel his helplessness as these thoughts crossed his mind... that maybe Isabelle would run from him once she knows of his past misdeeds. After all, wasn’t Jack’s father the same type of guy who ruined her life? George realizes what an idiot he has been to think that he can make her his mistress, when Isabelle is worthy of gracing someone’s home as his wife, and damn but Georges suddenly wants to be that man!
Though George has no idea, Isabelle has fallen too and she knows it’s not good news. She doesn’t want to be close to him and yet, she can’t help the feeling of being protected when George is near. She can see that he cares for her and for Jack but for how long? Would he stick to her when she needs him? The reality of her past experience intrudes whenever Isabelle’s head is in the cloud even for a moment. She knows that being the son of a noble family George would inevitably marry someone else. Could she become his mistress and live that life just because she loves him? Then I loved how Isabelle knew that this will harm Jack in the end... Jack, who is still missing...
Then comes that last 30% of the story I ABSOLUTELY ADORED. George comes clean and tells Isabelle everything, knowing he might lose her. His plan was to go to his ex-mistress’s house, a house that he rented for her and she still inhabits, and get the boy himself. He’s not scared and knows how to be intimidating when the need arises. Unfortunately, when Isabelle hears of it all, she promptly wants to accompany him. It is her son and she’d go, no matter how sick she is feeling at that time. What shook me the most was George’s open vulnerability and Isabelle’s own feeling of pure jealousy and gut-churning sick feeling when she learns of the ex-mistress. TBH, she felt how I absolutely would’ve felt, so I could connect with her thoughts and feelings. The way she becomes distant to cope with such revelations, even knowing what she already guessed, that George is no saint when it comes to women. After arriving at the house, Isabelle’s thoughts crossed to what might’ve occurred between the mistress and George, making her even more ill. But she made me proud by staying calm when the ex-mistress finally comes out of her room. Even when the woman starts taunting her and George. Even when the maid of that house whispers to her that her mistress was pregnant some days ago, but has ‘taken care of that’ with Biggles’s help. I loved how Isabelle perked her nose up and went to find Jack on her own, even when, inside, her world was crashing down on her yet once again. It must hurt terribly to know such things and then trying to reason, then not knowing what to actually think of the man she’d fallen for. Could she ever really trust George? Isabelle knows she probably can’t and would have to ignore him...
George also hears of how the pregnancy was ‘taken care of’ and becomes mad. Even though he didn’t want to be a father, he still was going to be a father. Then he forces the woman to speak up and tell him what her brother, who turned out to be Jack’s father too, did in order to fleece money. Isabelle didn’t know that George had already met the guy and beat him to bloody pulp for what he did to her, seeing how unconcerned he’d looked about that upon inquired by George. When Jack is safe at home, Isabelle finds she has an order from her father to return to the house; not as a loving daughter but as servants. Obviously Marshall has heard that she’s no longer ‘in hiding’, thought better of it and called her back in so that she can’t go and ruin the family name once again. I don’t even know what to say to that because I felt so MAD at the loser! But George took care of it for me, and brilliantly if I might add. And he makes a point to his mother to accept Isabelle no matter what. Bravo!
In those last chapters, the tremendous maturity that I witnessed in their personalities changed my POV of George and Isabelle entirely. Isabelle showed me that she is much stronger than I gave her the credits for. And George, ah, his words to Isabelle on the last chapter brought tears to my eyes. I’m glad that AMac proved me wrong where he was concerned. Most especially, if I had any doubts about Isabelle and George belonging to each-other, I had none when I finished the book. It was so good to see them finally together, married and ecstatic. I love it when that happens! Though, right now, I don’t know who’s getting the next book, I can hardly wait for another heartwarming story from AMac! 4.25 stars.
This ARC was provided to me by Random House/Ballantine Books via netgalley which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.