Faith Devlin has been in love with Gray Rouillard for as long as she can remember. He’s beautiful, smart, a football star, and the only son of the wealthiest family in the county. He is the golden prince of Prescott, Louisiana, and he knows it. And he’s kind to Faith when no one else is. Daughter of a whore and a drunk, and sister to drunks and whores and an idiot, Faith knows she is different from her family- she likes books and the forest and looking after her youngest brother Scottie, who was born retarded. She knows she’s born for greater things, but in the meantime she’s only eleven, and content to admire eighteen-year-old Gray from afar.
And then Gray’s father Guy runs away with his mistress, Renee Devlin, Faith’s mother, leaving behind his wife and two children and abandoning the Rouillard family business without formally passing the reins to Gray. In a rage, Gray turns the trashy Devlins out of the shack they have been squatting in on Rouillard land, and has the sheriff run the entire family out of the county. Faith will never forget that humiliating and painful night, scrambling to pick up her family’s meager belongings in the dark, with Scottie crying and clutching at her, wearing only her nightgown as grown men leared the silhouette of her young body, and her beloved Gray calling her and her entire family worthless trash.
Twelve years later, Faith Devlin Hardy has returned to Prescott, a beautiful young widow with her own successful travel agency. She is determined to find out what really happened that night–she knows that her mother never ran away with Guy, so where has he been all these years as her family fell apart? Gray is just as mad as ever and determined to protect his fragile family- his mother who hadn’t been seen in public since her abandonment, and his sister who slit her wrists when told her father had left her. Unfortunately, the son seems to be just like the father, with an uncontrollable appetite for a Devlin woman. Gray wants Faith in his bed but out of his town, but Faith has sworn never to be run out of town again, even by the still-beautiful Gray. Tied together by lust and anger and the memory of that long-ago night that devastated both their families, they build a passionate relationship that is threatened by the secret of Guy’s disappearance, and the person who will do anything to keep that secret.
I’ve read this book before, but not for years, so I picked it up again on a whim. I remember enjoying it much more when I was younger. It’s not because it’s a bad book, or poorly written- on the contrary, it’s a very good book, with strong characters, a descriptive setting, and a detailed mystery. Linda Howard has long been considered a powerhouse of the romance novel world, prolific and talented. I think the problem is a combination of the novel being a little dated (it was first published in 1995) and the way that I’ve changed over time. Gray Rouillard is handsome, smart, strong, ruthless, wealthy, a respected businessman, a well-known lover of women, and determined to get his own way no matter what. He is a perfect example of a classical romance novel hero. And I really want to slap him.
He makes gestures towards gender equality- he is proud of Faith for owning a successful travel agency, with multiple locations. He knows exactly what she left town with, and what she has had to struggle against to win her success. However, he is also still slightly indulgent, and there is a distinct whiff of “you’ve done very well honey, for a woman in your position” around his remarks. He also thinks that he has the right to bully her out of town and still occupy her bed, just because he wants her body but he puts what he perceives to be the needs of his sister and mother over hers. It will be easier for him if Faith moves to a town near Prescott where he can still visit regularly, so she can be out of sight and out of mind for all of the good and prejudiced people of the town.
Faith falls into the classic trap of loving an asshole man because of the way he makes her feel. It’s to her credit that she doesn’t stop her investigation when it displeases Gray, but that also falls into the “spunky heroine” cliché. Then they can keep having angry sex to make up any arguments, and then argue again so they can have more sex.
Basically, Gray is an arrogant jerk because he is in a romance novel- he eventually improves slightly when Faith is proven right, and of course they fall in love because romance novel, but I think I’ve taken too many women’s studies courses since the last time I read this book to be comfortable liking it too much. Still, for women who still find the arrogant jerk schtick attractive, this is an excellent read. Or men who love to read about the jerk and the feisty redheads who love them.
The two girls began darting swiftly around the yard, gathering up every item they came to. Faith worked harder than she ever had in her life, her slender body bending and weaving, moving so fast that Scottie couldn’t keep up with her. He followed in her path, sobbing hoarsely, his pudgy little hands clutching at her whenever she came within reach.
Her mind was numb. She didn’t let herself think, couldn’t think. She moved automatically, cutting her hand on a broken bowl and not even noticing. One of the deputies did, though, and gruffly said, “Here, girl, you’re bleeding,” and tied his handkerchief around her hand. She thanked him without knowing what she said.
She was too innocent, and too dazed, to realize how the lights of the cars shone through the thin fabric of her nightgown, silhouetting her youthful body, her slim thighs and high, graceful breasts. She bent and lifted, each change of position outlining a different part of her body, pulling the fabric tight across her breast and showing the small peak of her nipple, the next time revealing the round curve of her buttock.
She was only fourteen, but in the stark, artificial light, with her long, thick hair flowing over her shoulders like dark flame, with the shadows catching the angle of her high cheekbones and darkening her eyes, her age wasn’t apparent.
What was apparent was her uncanny resemblance to Renee Devlin, a woman who had only to walk across a room to bring most men to some degree of arousal. Renee’s sensuality was sultry and vibrant, beckoning like a neon sign to male instincts. When the men looked at Faith, it wasn’t her whom they were seeing, but her mother.
Gray stood silently, watching the proceedings. The rage was still there, still cold and consuming, undiluted. Disgust filled him as the Devlins, father and sons, staggered around, cussing and making wild threats. With the sheriff and his deputies there, though, they weren’t going to do anything more than shoot off their mouths, so Gray ignored them. Amos had had a close call when he’d pushed the youngest girl down; Gray’s fists balled, but she had jumped up, apparently unhurt, and he had restrained himself.
The two girls were rushing around, valiantly trying to gather up the most necessary items. The male Devlins took out their vicious, stupid frustrations on the girls, snatching things from their arms and throwing the items to the ground, loudly proclaiming that no goddamn body was going to throw them out of their house, not to waste time picking things up because they weren’t goin’ nowhere, goddamn it. The oldest girl, Jodie, pleaded with them to help, but their drunken boasting drowned out her useless efforts.
The younger girl didn’t waste her time trying to reason with them, just moved silently back and forth, trying to bring order to chaos despite the clinging hands of the little boy. Despite himself, Gray found his gaze continually seeking her out, and himself unwillingly fascinated by the graceful, feminine outline of her body beneath that almost transparent nightgown. Her very silence drew attention to her, and when he glanced sharply around, he noticed that most of the deputies were watching her, too.
There was an odd maturity to her, and a trick of the lights gave him the strange feeling that he was looking at Renee rather than her daughter. The whore had taken his father from him, driven his mother into mental withdrawal, and nearly cost his sister her life, and here she was again, tempting men in her daughter’s flesh.
Jodie was more voluptuous, but she was noisy and cheap. Faith’s long, dark red hair swirled over the pearly sheen of her shoulders, bared by the straps of that nightgown. She looked older than he knew she was, not quite real, an incarnation of her mother drifting silently through the night, every move like a carnal dance.
Unwillingly, Gray felt his shaft stir and thicken, and he was disgusted with himself. He looked around at the deputies and saw his response mirrored in their eyes, an animal heat that they should be ashamed of having for a girl that young.
God, he was no better than his father. Give him a whiff of a Devlin woman and he was like a wild buck in rut, hard and ready. Monica had nearly died today because of Renee Devlin, and here he was watching Renee’s daughter with his cock twitching in his britches.
She walked toward him, carrying a pile of clothes. No, not toward him, but toward the truck behind him. Her green cat eyes flickered at him, the expression in them hooded and mysterious. His pulse leaped, and the look of her broke his tenuous hold on his temper. The events of the day piled up on him and he lashed out with devastating fierceness, wanting the Devlins to suffer as he had suffered.
“You’re trash,” he said in a deep, harsh voice as the girl drew even with him. She halted, frozen to the spot, with the kid still clinging to her legs. She didn’t look at Gray, just stared straight ahead, and the stark, pure outline of her face enraged him even more. “Your whole family is trash. Your mother is a whore and your father is a thieving drunk. Get out of this parish and don’t ever come back.”