Courtney Milan was gonna take the title without a fight, but Once She Was Tempted by Anne Barton was absolutely wonderful. I highly recommend it.
Daphne Honeycote has a scandalous problem. She and her sister were living in poverty just two years ago, with a gravely ill mother. In order to bring in a little money, to literally kept death away, Daphne posed for two scandalous paintings. This was unlikely to ever be a problem, as they weren't members of society and no one who knew her would ever know, but now her sister Annabelle has married a duke and the paintings are on verge of discovery. One of them has fallen into the handles of Benjamin Elliot, Earl of Foxborn, and since his young protegee has his eye on Daphne, Ben is obliged to scare her off. Daphne manages to convince him that she's not the girl he assumes, and then enlists Ben in helping her find the other painting. Scandal seems inevitable when the owner of the second painting makes plans to auction it publicly at the largest ball of the season.
Obviously, you don't run across innocent girls posing for semi-nude paintings often in historical romances. That alone was enough to draw me in, but then when you think about texting and how easy it is for teenagers now to send out a picture that they might later regret, well, I had to see how this would play out. Barton does a terrific job of portraying how anxious and upset Daphne is over it, and how it really wasn't something she took lightly, or even really regretted. The resolution to the scandal is terrific- it isn't miraculously solved, but she manages to find a way to avoid the complete scandal, which I really appreciated.
Daphne is so likeable. She manages to speak her mind, and flirt, and still worry about being a nice person. She's much more worried about the scandals impact on her sister and family than for herself. She's not too perfect, she did pose for the paintings, after all, and she's not adverse to speaking bluntly when the situation calls for it.
Ben is one of my favorite heroes so far this year. He's handsome and smart, and a war hero. He's still mourning the death of his best friend in battle, and dealing with a horrible war injury of his own. He's often in great pain and suffers from PTSD and depression of the most believable sort. He's honorable, and he believes that he's too cynical and weary to properly court Daphne, let alone marry her. This is a common argument in a romance, but for once it's not all for show.
The romance between them is so very well done. They both know this is a bad idea, and they are both resisting, but at the same time they don't spend all their time together going on and on about what a bad idea it is. They enjoy each others company, and they they get home at night they realistically know it's not going anywhere. Until, of course, they have to admit it. This is exactly the romance novel I've been waiting for all year.
Once She Was Tempted was provided to me by the publisher and NetGalley, but I will be purchasing the first book in the series, When She Was Wicked. I also received the novella To All The Rakes I've Loved Before, book 1.5 in the series, from NetGalley and while it was good, I rather wish it had been a full length novel.
Once She Was Tempted will be released on October 29th.