The last time Madeline Raine had seen James Purnell, she had been but a chit of a girl, and at his mercy. Purnell had held her helpless in his arms - but protectively above the abyss of her own dangerous hunger for him.
He had left her then, not taking her innocence but taking her heart, as he vanished from England. Since then Madeline had reigned as society's most dazzling and heartless beauty, making all men pay for one man's rebuff of her.
Now James was back, more handsome and arrogant than ever. And Madeline steeled herself not to fall under his spell again. But she soon discovered that the melting power of passion ignited by love would not easily die…
What I did not like: people who know me, also know that I love Mary Balogh, she is one of my favorite authors, most of her books are at least readable, but most of the time very enjoyable. There was one book that I truly hated (“tempting Harriet”, and no, you won't catch me writing a review on that) and I never thought I will find another one to equal it, and even surpass it! But there it is! The devil's web!
For those who don't know, this is the last book in a series of three, and we have had glimpses of Madeline and James's love affair all through the series. It's one of those love and hate relationships, that honestly, need a lot of skill to be believable.
I've seen through the series that James has all the ingredients that make a tortured hero, so of course my interest is piqued. Why do we love tortured heroes?! Most of the time they only whine about their sufferings and make everyone near them feel unhappy?! And when we finally find out the reason for their “torture” it proves to be something that could be solved very easily by a few words of the heroine! But there you have it, the torturing syndrome got me again! And here we have a very fine example of it! James is absolutely impossible! I kept reading because I could not believe it, because a jerk like that was never found by me as a hero in a Balogh book. So I could not stop and just abandon the book, I had to keep trying, and maybe, there will be some explanation, some excuse, SOMETHING to atone for all the bad behavior of the hero toward the heroine. Because his excuse was rubbish for me - he did not feel himself capable of showing love (HA! Love! What about some decency at least and common courtesy. What about just treating your wife like she is a human being!) to the heroine because in his youth he knows himself to have impregnated the girl he loved and was not allowed to wed her himself – so he feels guilty.
Shortly, the hero and heroine are very attracted to each other, but they never seem to at least be friendly. Despite this, they decide to get married – and basically the reason is love – even if not acknowledged aloud in front of the beloved. And now begins the nightmare!
I honestly don't have anything against the heroine, it's obvious that she really tries to make her marriage work. She is not the boring type of heroine, she is active, full of life and very nice and patient with the hero, tries to understand him, tries to avoid discussions, but sometimes, out of nowhere, without any apparent reason, he strikes again. This is what I disliked the most – there were no reasons for what he does to her. They seem to have a good scene, and from nothing he gets prickly like a hedgehog and tells her something hurtful. Just like that! And that was a surprise honestly, because usually marriages in Balogh world, even those of convenience, are very polite, they sort of have some rules, and the hero treats the heroine with respect. Always! So it was very difficult for me to adjust to this new type of hero, who was also very unpleasant. And on top of everything else, he is also very possessive, distrustful and gives orders without explanations!
In the end the hero finds out that the reason for his “torture” was not a valid one (of course) and he finally talks with the heroine and after one last hurtful thing to say (like: oh, are you pregnant?! And is it mine?!), although, apparently, he had come to make peace with her. But they do acknowledge their love for each other in the very last pages of the book and decide to make their marriage work. Like anyone in his right mind would believe their marriage will ever work!
What I liked: there are some little things that I liked to read, or better, that ringed true. First, the first sex scene between the hero and heroine – it is one of the few where the heroine actually finds it a not so pleasant experience. Not that I'm glad for the poor heroine, but really I'm sick of reading about orgasms on the first time, especially when it takes place outdoors, on the hard ground!
Another thing I liked was to see that the hero does not escape his heritage. With a very cold and morose father he did not turn out to be a carefree, outgoing person. That's another thing that does not ring true to me in many romances – characters that come from very troubled parents, with very troubled childhoods, always overcome anything and get to be these beautiful persons with no flaws at all. Like they are not human!
I might have disliked immensely how the hero treats the heroine, but the truth is that it kept me on my toes. I read the book all anxious to find out how everything turns out to be. And that is something I have to admit :) grudgingly...