Brown-Eyed Girl earlier this year, I decided to read another book from Lisa Kleypas's contemporary romance series (albeit in random and reverse order) and picked up Blue-Eyed Devil (2008). This series focuses on the love lives of the Travis family. The Travis family is a prominent, wealthy Texas family consisting of a powerful patriarch and four siblings. Haven, the only girl (and possibly the youngest?) is at the wedding of her eldest brother (one of the books I haven't read yet) when she first sees Hardy Cates. Hardy and Haven have one memorable meeting before Haven marries her college boyfriend--despite her father's disapproval.
Anyone reading this book or this review already knows there's no chance for Haven and her new husband Nick, but they might not be expecting the pure evil that Nick becomes. Fitting the profile of a violent abuser to a tee, Nick begins to control Haven's life--even changing her name--calling her by her middle name, Marie. Things only get worse from there.
Fortunately, Haven eventually calls her brother who fetches her back to Houston (or Dallas?), gives her a job, an apartment, and a car, which gives Haven a chance to get her life back. Unsurprisingly, Haven runs into Hardy Cates again. They remember each other from their first meeting and Hardy immediately starts pursuing her. Haven is still trying to balance getting over her ex-husband's deplorable treatment, her work, and her undeniable attraction to Hardy. It doesn't help that her boss is horrible and Nick starts contacting her again. It also doesn't help that Haven's brothers all hate Hardy for some business deal that happened in an earlier book.
I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it held my attention throughout, and I generally cared about the characters. On the other hand, there were a number of issues that kept me from loving it. First, I wasn't totally sold on the abusive husband story line. Yes, it was realistic, explained why women might stay in an abusive situation, and described the psychology behind a controlling, abusive husband. Yet it's hard to not feel that throwing rape and abuse into a romance is exploitative and an easy way to create a villain.
In addition, Haven's boss was also a one-dimensional villain. She had no redeeming characteristics and her actions were beyond self interest in their villainy. Finally, there were an awful lot of comments about women that rubbed me the wrong way. Hardy says at one point--in the middle of a semi-emergency--that "any other woman" would be hysterical. I guess he's complimenting Haven by saying that all other women would just fall apart in a crisis. The dynamic between Hardy and Haven often felt old fashioned.
A couple of scenes near the end of the book really bothered me. The first was when we find out that Hardy comes from a family with its own abuse. His father abused his mother and is a rapist, and apparently Hardy's brother is a rapist, too. Hardy mentions that he just recently paid off the family of a girl to keep his brother from going to prison. Seriously? This is our hero? Why is he keeping a rapist out of prison so he can keep terrorizing women? I was disappointed with Hardy here. Also, in a related scene, Hardy is drunk and out of control while Haven has only recently gotten comfortable sleeping with him after all the trauma she's been through. The sex scene between them at this point was aggressive, and it made me very uncomfortable--especially considering Haven's past. I think it was meant to show that Haven could trust Hardy not to hurt her under any circumstances, but I did not like it.
Finally, Haven is lucky to have a rich, powerful brother who can fly her out of the city, give her a place to stay, a job, a car, and push through a quickie divorce without her involvement. After a relatively realistic portrayal of an abusive relationship, the exit out was much more of a fairy tale. I might not have noticed it, except that Haven goes out of her way to ask her brother not to give her any special treatment before accepting an assistant position at the leasing office and getting a free apartment in one of the most luxurious buildings in the city.