|In a follow-up to When She Was Wicked, Daphne Honeycote, sister of the previous heroine, finds herself in a potentially scandalous predicament in Once She Was Tempted. Daphne’s fortunes have improved, thanks to her sister Anabelle’s marriage to the Duke of Huntford. Daphne is enjoying a Season and has caught the eye of Hugh, Lord Biltmore. He’s the ward of Benjamin Elliott, the surly Earl of Foxburn, and Ben has a problem with Daphne the moment he meets her.
A semi-nude portrait of Daphne is hanging in Ben’s study.
Before her sister’s marriage, Daphne posed for two rather risqué portraits as a way to raise money for her mother’s medicines. An anonymous country gentleman commissioned them and she never expected them to surface again. Ben ended up with one of the portraits after the death at Waterloo of his closest friend, and he has no idea where his friend got it. He’s not about to allow his late friend’s younger brother marry a fortune-hunter, no matter how beautiful she is.
Daphne at first tries to bluff, but soon admits that she is the lady in the portrait, dubbed “The English Beauty.” She agrees to end her flirtation with Hugh if Ben will help her find the second portrait. Ben, a wounded war hero with a bad leg, agrees to the plan. Soon Daphne and the oblivious Huntsfords are off to the country, ostensibly to join a house party but in actuality, allowing Ben and Daphne to search a neighboring estate for the missing painting.
Ben and Daphne are a lot of fun and their romance is beautifully done. They are intrigued from the start, but think they are all wrong for one another, for different reasons. As they join forces, first to find the painting and then to thwart a blackmailer, the author builds a lovely romance.
The story dragged a bit, and felt overlong. The characters of Olivia and Rose, the Duke of Huntsford’s sisters, here had little to do except fill pages with chatter. Olivia in particular verged on annoying, as she talked a lot but said little. Even Anabelle, who was previously intelligent and canny, is here reduced to window dressing. The best parts of the story were those focused on Daphne and Ben, who in classic “stubborn male” fashion, can’t see what’s in front of him until it’s almost too late. Both are vibrant and sympathetic, and their depth of character is well done.
Once She Was Tempted is an entertaining follow up to When She Was Wicked. Anne Barton has a nice style to her writing and a great way with an inventive plot. I’ll be looking forward to her future releases.