Claiming the Courtesan

Tempt the Devil
by Anna Campbell
(Avon Books, $6.99, R) ISBN 978-0-06-123493-4
In Tempt the Devil, Olivia Raines is a notorious courtesan in London.  She is renowned for her independence although she’s a kept woman.  She chooses her protector, beds him and then discards him.  When she says goodbye, she doesn’t look back.

Julian Southwood, the Earl of Erith, is an empty man.  His beloved wife died when he was a young man, and driven wild by grief and guilt, he abandoned his son and daughter to the care of his sister.  Since then, he’s led a life of leisure, buying himself the best of everything to help ease the ache of his lonely life.  He’s had a long list of lovers, but sworn not to fall in love again.  Now Julian has returned to London and he sees Olivia at a party where she is to choose her newest protector.  He wants her desperately once he lays eyes on her.

Julian is in London to reconcile with his grown children and intends to keep Olivia until he leaves after his daughter’s wedding.  He wants nothing more than a short-term affair.  Then he discovers that Olivia is frigid.  A sexually unresponsive courtesan?  Julian is completely baffled.  Then little by little, he begins to discover that Olivia has her reasons to hate men.  She’s also harboring secrets about her past, and her family.

Julian sees that beneath Olivia’s polished exterior is a vulnerable, damaged woman. He wants to understand Olivia, heal her, excite her and soothe her.  They only have a few short weeks together, and Olivia is too proud and hurt to trust Julian with her well-kept secrets.  Julian begins to share a few secrets of his own with Olivia while trying to reach her, not realizing that their shared vulnerability is binding them to one another.

Julian and Olivia are worldly, jaded and heartsick about their pasts.  They are also restricted by society.  It’s all right for the wealthy earl to indulge in an affair with Miss Raines for a time, but what healing can he offer her in a few weeks?  As they begin to fall in love with each other, there is no safe place for them to continue their liaison.  Olivia knows she must cast him off to protect herself, and Julian knows he must finally think of his children before himself.  Can these singed souls find contentment together, apart, or at all?

This is a dark love story, as there are ugly truths revealed in Julian and Olivia’s past.  They are human through to their bones.  Both have made mistakes and survived terrible tragedies.  The scarred hearts they bear make love unlikely at best, and seemingly impossible.  Olivia presents a false sexual front while hating all men.  Julian holds his dead wife as a perfect martyr within his heart, while bearing the grief of abandoning his kids.  As Julian and Olivia become close, they pull confessions out of one another in a determined way.  The hurt and anger that this revealing brings make their relationship more passionate, more binding than most stories ever reveal.

Olivia is proud, honorable, and she sticks to her principles.  Her version of revenge on the men who have hurt her in the past, as well as life’s cruel circumstances, has pushed her into her current profession.  However, it has not changed her character at all.  Olivia’s burgeoning sensuality is beautiful to read, as she is introduced to tenderness through Julian.  Her conflicted thoughts and actions as she tries to react to a man who attempts to help her, after buying her time and attention is thoughtfully written.

Julian is a three-dimensional hero, imperfect, sexy and tender.  He can be thoughtless, arrogant, domineering.  He is also loving, and understanding towards Olivia.  When he strives to awaken her sexuality with her, he is steamy hot.      

I was so in love with this story, I read it in a day.  I was even sad to see it end.  Tempt the Devil brings a new love story, with realistic, fresh characters into print.  For anyone who has been hurt by love, and desires a hopeful story to lift their spirits, this is a must read. 

--Amy Wroblewsky   

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