Once She Was Tempted
Forever / October 29, 2013 / $8.00 print, $7.59 digital
A PORTRAIT OF A LADY
. . . or is it? The risqué painting owned by Benjamin Elliot, the earl of Foxburn, features a stunning beauty with sapphire eyes, golden hair, and creamy skin. Ben recognizes this particular English rose the instant he meets her-though she's wearing considerably more clothing. In person, the demure debutante is even more irresistible . . .
In desperate need of money for her sick mother, Daphne Honeycote had posed for two scandalous portraits. Now she must hide her secret to save the Honeycote family name. Ben's possession of one painting makes him an insufferable thorn in her side-and yet he may be her best chance at finding the canvas's companion. As she becomes drawn to the dark-tempered earl, can Daphne risk laying bare the secrets of her heart?
Anne Barton's Once She Was Tempted begins:
Upon meeting Miss Daphne Honeycote for the first time, Benjamin Elliot, Earl of Foxburn, had two distinct thoughts.
The first was that she appeared to be a suitable match for his upstanding young protégé, Hugh. . . . The earl's second thought regarding Miss Honeycote was that he should probably take down the nude portrait of her that was hanging in his study.
Now that's an opening that will grab you. Ben has been obsessed with the woman in the portrait ever since it came into his possession. He keeps it in his private study and rewards himself for doing estate work by glancing at it every 15 minutes or so. An interesting work incentive. So to come face to face with the embodiment of his fantasies takes him aback.
To be fair—and to his everlasting regret—Miss Honeycote wasn't entirely nude in the painting. She reclined on a chaise of sapphire blue, her gown unlaced all the way to the small of her back, exposing slim shoulders and the long indent of her spine. The look she cast over her shoulder was serene and wise.
And utterly captivating.
Ben kept a wary eye on the stunning blonde throughout the evening. If he didn't know better, he'd swear she'd stepped out of the portrait in his study and raided the armoire of a prudish vicar's wife before coming to dinner. The contradiction between the oil-painted and in-the-flesh versions of Miss Honeycote kept his mind pleasantly—if wickedly—occupied during the meal.
Of course, any woman who'd model for such a scandalous portrait is unsuitable for his young friend, and Ben confronts her about the painting, warning her off.
“What makes you so sure that the woman in the portrait is me?”
It didn't occur to him to lie. Not about this. “You reflect light.”
“In the painting, as in real life, you are . . . luminous.” It was true. He'd never known a person who shined like her. It wasn't just her pale blond tresses or her radiant skin or gleaming eyes. She shone from the inside, and it made him uncomfortably and acutely aware of the cold, damp, dark foxhole that was his life.
This idea of darkness and light runs through the novel. Ben's dark, cynical soul, embittered by the loss of friends at Waterloo and the constant pain he endures due a war injury, craves Daphne's light; not just the light of her beauty, but of her own soul.
This was the moment Ben had been waiting for, the reason he had arranged the entire evening. He needed to understand why Miss Honeycote had risked her reputation - the only thing she'd really had. But mostly he needed to understand her. To be close to her light for a while.
It turns out that there is a second, companion portrait at large, and Ben offers to help Daphne procure it to salvage her family's honor and her own reputation, though he is dismayed by her plans for it.
Destroy it? He hadn't considered the idea that she might want to get rid of the portrait altogether. It would be sacrilege. He understood her logic, of course. For as long as the painting existed, her reputation was in a state of danger. He just knew that he'd never be able to bring himself to torch or shred it. The very idea made his stomach clench.
There is much more to the story and, frankly, not all of it works for me. But this idea of Ben's connection to the portrait, his longing for Daphne and her light to help rescue him from his darkness, made for a very interesting and affecting reading experience for me.
Learn more or pre-order a copy of Once She Was Tempted by Anne Barton, available on October 29, 2013:
Cheryl Sneed reviews for Rakehell.com.