Dell, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-440-24491-2
Historical Romance, 2011
Devon Audley, the Duke of March, has lost much of his idealism when he returned from the war, all blind and with PTSD. His valet quit when Devon lost it when the man was trying to help him get his suit on and Devon broke the valet’s wrist. Believing that he is a danger to the people around him, Devon ends up living like a hermit in his country home with only a loyal manservant for company. Then, one fine morning, he is awakened by a woman, “Cerise”, who claims to be a gift from Devon’s friend the Earl of Ashton. Lord Ashton believed that a woman would help Devon forget his woes for a while, so here is Cerise, who is more than happy to be Devon’s mistress. In fact, she’s strangely insistent on being his mistress, for some reason…
“Cerise” is actually Anne Beddington. She had been a prostitute for about five years now, ever since her mother became too sick to work and Anne had to find a way to support the two of them. What happens is that Anne believes that she has killed her employer when Anne tried to save some young girls from the pimp. Now looking for a place to hide, Anne overheard Lord Ashton trying to hire Anne’s friend for the gig at Devon’s place. Her friend already has a protector, so Anne decides to pose as the woman sent by Ashton to seek out Devon. She remembers Devon as the first man she encountered when she tried to sell herself for the first time, and Devon was kind to her, offering her money and asking her to be on her way. She hopes that Devon is still that kind man she remembers. Boy, is she in for a surprise.
Engaged in Sin trundles down a predictable path. The main characters are not the usual sorts encountered in romance novels – we’re talking about a genuine prostitute and a blind man with PTSD – but the plot development is a familiar one. The hero of course falls in love with the heroine, and the heroine naturally starts trying very hard to play the martyr and push him away for his own good. The song sounds like something I’ve heard before, and the dance is almost routine by now.
While this book would probably appeal to fans of Mary Balogh, it has plenty of sex scenes. Anne is already opening her mouth to demonstrate how happy she is to meet Devon shortly into this book. The thing is, she’s doing all this to convince Devon to keep her as his mistress, and it’s pretty obvious that she’s not as into each happy hour as she wants him to think. She even fakes her orgasms often. Therefore, the sex scenes here aren’t lush and sensual as much as they are just desperate things the heroine does when she feels that her life is in danger – they are more depressing than anything else.
Anne has a charming tendency to try to bolt every time she feels that she’s being Devon’s burden, which puzzles me. Not that I disagree with that notion, but then again, she did seek him out to be the guy that rescues her, so I don’t know why she is do distressed when she gets what she wishes. Then again, she’s also that dingbat that wails about how Devon only sees her as his mistress when that’s exactly what she wants him to see her as, so I guess she’s just another romance heroine who can’t be happy when she gets what she wants.
Devon is a pretty decent hero in that he tries to protect people around him from himself, and he is never cruel or unkind. However, he isn’t a hero as much as he is the poor guy that has to keep coming to Anne’s rescue. The second half of this book is basically a non-stop marathon of Anne getting into trouble. She always wants to run away from Devon, but she can’t even put her head out a window for ten seconds before someone tries to kidnap her. The bad guy just keeps coming and coming – and I don’t mean that in a dirty way, unfortunately – until I don’t know whether to laugh or cringe at how our heroine is such a trouble magnet that she has to be continuously rescued by a blind dude.
Also, I have to warn folks who can’t stand the overuse of terms of endearment: every time Devon talks to Anne, he invariably calls her “love” or “angel”. If you takes a small sip of alcohol each time he uses any of these terms, you’d be hospitalized by the time you reach the last page.
Anyway, the external conflict can be too much like an episode of Tom and Jerry, but there are occasional sweet moments between Devon and Anne. For the most part, though, Anne’s just oozing desperation too often, making the romance feels more like an act of desperation from a woman can’t save herself but insists on saving the world nonetheless.
The story also conforms to the typical “we must get married in the end” formula, which in this case works against it because the heroine has been a prostitute long enough that she has been patronized by many of the guys she’d meet in ballrooms and such. The author claims that the Duke’s reputation is solid enough to withstand any scandal of this union, but I have my doubts about that. Why can’t the happy ending be just the two of them having a happy mistress-and-protector relationship? It’s not like this is an unheard of arrangement in the 19th century, and this kind of arrangement would probably make more sense as a happy ending for this story. To have the heroine being what she is and then have a magic wand waved so that she will enjoy life as a princess of the Ton are a bit too much for me to believe.
On the bright side, Engaged in Sin doesn’t make me feel annoyed much despite the cartoon nature of the story, mostly because the over the top damsel-in-distress nature of the story is hard to take seriously. I’m more bemused than exasperated by the silly people in this story. I know, this is like me saying that a meal is great because I don’t spend an hour on the toilet bowl afterwards, but then again, this story has a determined martyr who wants to save the world when she can’t even save herself, who keeps throwing herself into situations that need someone to rescue her. And yet, it’s not annoying! Let’s all be grateful for little mercies in life.