ONCE SHE WAS TEMPTED is a stunning, heartwarming, and unbelievably sweet romance from star author Anne Barton!
Following her sister Annabelle's marriage to the Duke of Huntford (When She Was Wicked
, Honeycote #1), Daphne has become a Cinderella figure, no longer needing to worry about mere survival. Daphne's loving sister is pushing her towards Hugh, Lord Biltmore, believing the young lord to be her match in temperament and disposition. Yet Daphne longs for more than security and comfort. Hugh is a kind friend, but only his guardian, Benjamin Elliot, the Earl of Foxburn, infuses her with desire.
Ben knows he is a cold, cynical man and relishes his reputation. He wants Daphne to leave Hugh alone as he believes her to be a fortune-hunting beauty. After all, he has a scantily clad picture of her in his study. Ben vowed to his dead friend Robert to care for his younger brother, which equates to arranging a happy marriage for Hugh. Miss Honeycote won't do, and he can threaten her with his painting to get her away from Hugh and him…or so he thinks.
In desperate need of funds for her mother's medicine, Daphne had posed for two scandalous paintings, believing they would never come back to haunt her. Now, as a debutante, she fears more for the scandal that will befall her family were this secret known than for her own reputation. Despite the cantankerous earl's warnings, kind Daphne can't forget Ben's mesmerizing blue eyes, or ignore the pain in his legs and heart.
When Ben offers to find the second portrait for Daphne in exchange for her staying away from Hugh, a relationship was formed. But could the earl come to want Daphne herself, and could the beauty heal the beast?
This story is reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast, yet it also breaks the mold. Ben is moody and in pain, emotionally and physically. His leg injury from the war is severe to the point of constant discomfort, yet he refuses to have it amputated. In part due to this, he is unwilling to open up to others, preferring solitude as his manner often scares people away. But despite his gruff cynicism, he is honest with Daphne and is slowly captivated by Daphne's shimmering, brilliant beauty, and the light to which she brought his world.
She shone from the inside, and it made him uncomfortably and acutely aware of the cold, damp, dark foxhole that was his life. (pg 26)
Despite her lovely and demure exterior, Daphne has a heart of steel underneath. Worrying that she might bring shame upon her newly gained family, she set out to rectify the matter. Perpetually considerate, Daphne is always putting the happiness of others ahead of her own, like a golden angel. Her outward cheerfulness conceals her dichotomic inner nature – her ingrained serenity and insecurities, to the point that she seems to be like any other fresh debutante, which is merely a delicate mask, for her unmistakable glow is effervescent and ethereal.
In healing Ben mentally and physically, Daphne gains a self-assurance and confidence for herself, no longer depending on her older sister as the family problem-solver. Her emergence as a true butterfly throughout the story is a vitalizing force that captured not only Ben's affection, but that of the readers as well.
He laced his fingers through hers and squeezed reassuringly. A current shot up his arm and radiated throughout his entire body. "You don't need to be afraid. I'll find the other painting."
"What if you can't?"
"I always, always deliver on promises, Daphne." (pg87)
In contrast and accompaniment, Ben's change is swift and sure, as his initial distrust of Daphne quickly dissipates, leaving in place the silhouette of a gentle protector. His emergence as a white knight in shining armor from a brooding beast makes him the perfect supplement to Daphne, and a wonderful hero.
The brilliant characterizations notwithstanding, the plot stands well on its own as a delightful, fun, sweet and engaging story with an enchanting set of secondary characters written in eloquently elegant prose. I truly enjoyed getting to know Daphne and Ben in this story, and greatly anticipate Anne Barton's coming novels for Olivia and Rose Sherbourne, sisters to the Duke of Huntford.
If he had any reservations about her character, it was that she was almost too generous and kind. Too good to be true. (pg 112)