"Women like men who punish themselves for things that are not their fault. It saves them the trouble."- – Kathryn Smith, For the First Time
I love a tortured man. It's good for him. It makes him a better person and so deserving of his woman. And Kathryn Smith has served us up a doozy of a tortured man in Devlin Ryland. The fourth son of a viscount, Ryland went into the army at seventeen, and after ten long years is looking to settle down, hoping to set some demons to rest. He has a severe case of Survivor?s Guilt, complete with nightmares and flashbacks. He believes his life and actions make it impossible for anyone to love him, even if he did believe in love. He has seen precious little of it.
Lady Blythe Christian, while she believes in love, believes it impossible that anyone should love her. She is a Big and Tall Gal, a six-foot Amazon; taller and stronger than most men, incredibly independent and more at home wearing breeches and tending to the family estate than dancing in ton ballrooms. Two years previously, she was jilted by the man she loved when he came home from the wars with a wife in tow. Now, her brother and his wife (Miles and Varya from Smith's Elusive Passion) are throwing a house party to which the ex-fiance Lord Carnover, and wife are invited. And so is Devlin, who is the man who saved Carny's life at Waterloo, setting in motion the events that lead to Blythe's jilting.
Blythe and Devlin are immediately and powerfully attracted to each other. Devlin believes Blythe to be perfect – or at least perfectly made for him. Blythe, who has always been self-conscious of her looks, is stunned to be the recipient of Devlin's attentions. Stunned, but appreciative. Why, he is even bigger than she is, topping her by six inches, and making her feel almost delicate, a new experience for her. Watching their interactions at the house party is a delight. You immediately root for this couple and know they are made for each other, as does everybody else. They are the only ones not sure.
While there are some external plotlines, most especially involving Carny, the conflict here is almost all internal. Neither of these people believe that they will ever find True Love. Devlin is not sure he even believes in it, if he is capable of it, drowning as he is in guilt and blood; Blythe believes in it, doesn?t really expect it, but won't marry without it. A case of Been There, Done That, Ain't Doing it Again. But they both recognize the potential for love in the other, and are determined to make the other succumb, not knowing that they did long ago.
Blythe and Devlin are together for most of the book, either at the house party, or in London. I like that Smith didn't end the book with their marriage, as is usually the case, but showed us the adjustments, the compromises – all the little steps toward the greater intimacy and trust so necessary in a marriage.
These are great, complex and interesting characters (though I will admit to the tiniest bit of frustration – "Oh, just give in and say the L Word already – you know you do!") with some wonderful, hot and yummy love scenes. I highly recommend For the First Time.
This is the first book in a series on the four Ryland brothers, all of whom we meet during the course of this book. I expect to have some great reading ahead!
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, September 12, 2003