I jumped in on this series with this fifth installment of The School for Heiresses series without having read the first four books. I was told it could be read as a stand alone, which turns out is indeed true. I had no problem figuring out the details surrounding the series story arc and while there were a few references to characters and couples who obviously starred in previous novels, it was easy enough to fill in the blanks.
The School for Heiresses is a series that centers around the women who attend and teach a unique, private school for heiresses at which these impressionable, young women are taught to make wise decisions about the men who will inevitably pursue their hand in marriage. In other words, how young heiresses can avoid fortune hunters.
The school was founded by Miss Charlotte Page Harris, a young widow whose husband had spent her inheritance, leaving her with nothing upon his death a few brief years later and now she wishes to educate young women from making the same mistakes. In addition to learning to steer clear of men determined to acquire the heiresses fortunes, the girls are taught arts such as music, dance, needlepoint, and so on, as well as academic subjects, a rare endeavor for a school in the early 1800s. Miss Charlotte Harris was able to establish this school only because of the help of her anonymous benefactor who refers himself to her as "Cousin Michael" and communicates with her only through letters. Her school would not be as successful as it is without the financial help of "Cousin Michael" or his experience, knowledge and support through their frequent exchange of letters. He is probably Miss Charlotte's dearest friend and confidant, despite the fact that she could pass him on the street and never know it.
Lucinda Seton is a recent graduate of Miss Harris' School for Heiresses and has recently had her heart broken by the man she had been expecting to marry. Lucy isn't just broken hearted, she's angry, for her suitor claimed she is not suitable to be his wife because of her Spanish heritage on her mother's side and because of her outspoken tendencies, but he would, however, be willing to keep her as his mistress. Outraged, she ends their courtship and accepts a temporary position as art teacher in the School for Heiresses.
The story begins when Lucinda takes a walk along the edge of the school's property and wanders to the orchard in the adjacent property. Lucy is a free spirited young woman and can't resist the opportunity to lay under the trees with her hair splayed about her and daydream for a spell. Of course, her hoyden behavior is discovered by a mysterious man who turns out to be the school's new neighbor and herein begins the trouble for the school . . . and Lucy. Her fiery spirit and sweet innocence immediately attracts the attention of this man, and in turn, Lucy is equally intrigued and attracted to him, even though she tries desperately to fight it.
It turns out the new, mysterious neighbor is none other than the famous Spanish illusionist, Diego Montalvo who reveals intentions of opening a pleasure garden (an amusement park of sorts for adults) on the property. Miss Harris and her peers are outraged at this prospect, fearing it will be the ruin of both the school and its students and attempt to thwart Senior Montalvo's plans at all costs.
Unbeknown to anyone but his butler, Diego Montalvo has ulterior motives for taking up residency next door to the school. In truth, he is on a mission to reclaim his family's estate in Spain by locating the long lost granddaughter of a wealthy and influential Spanish Marques to whom he is in debt and returning this heiress to her family in Spain. It just so happens that clues of this woman's possible whereabouts lead him to this area.
As Lucy works hard at stopping Diego's apparent plans to build the pleasure garden, she also struggles to resist his charms. Diego, in the meantime, is searching for the missing Spanish heiress and as he falls for Lucy, he fears she is the one he has been looking for but cannot ever have.
Don't Bargain With the Devil is a fun and fast paced, albeit fairly straightforward romance between a kind, open hearted young woman and an entertaining man who fell for the woman he couldn't have and would only end up hurting in order to fulfill promises made in his past. Most of all, I admired Lucy throughout the story for her strength and her resolve to stay true to herself and those she cares about. Her kind heartedness allowed her to give those she cared about the benefit of the doubt when it appeared they didn't have her best interests in heart. Plus I thought she had a great sense of humor.
Diego's honor and good intentions fell a little short for me. I understood his attraction to Lucy and his desire to have her as his wife, but at the same time, I wanted him to work harder at deserving her. He started his acquaintance with her with grand lies and soon resorted to trickery--and some really cheesy lines-- to keep her attention. He wasn't a mean or cruel man and didn't want to hurt Lucy, but he did it anyway. I understood the honor and importance in keeping the promises he made to his deceased father and those he made with the Spanish Marques to whom he is indebted, but if he loved Lucy, even if he thought he couldn't have her, I wanted him to come straight with her much earlier on than he did.
Sadly, Diego was not the only man who lied to Lucy. Other important men in her life lied to her or about her and while they all thought they had her best interests at heart, no one truly considered being truthful with her until they got caught up in their lies.
While the story was fairly straightforward and at times predictable, it was an enjoyable read and made me think how fun it would have been to be reading this series since it's first installment. I was happy that Lucy got the happily ever after that she wanted and deserved, but I hope the men in her life realize what an amazing woman she is to have forgiven them so easily for lying to her.
The relationship between the Miss Charlotte Harris and her anonymous benefactor, "Cousin Michael," as revealed in letters exchanged between them throughout the story, was very intriguing and certainly raised my curiosity about the outcome of their relationship, enough so that I picked up their story and the final novel in The School for Heiresses Series, Wed Him Before You Bed Him.
You can visit the author's website at http://www.sabrinajeffries.com/ .